NEWS OF ENGLAND
Or, A Country Without A Hero
News of England
No Place Like Home
The Fool Hath Said
A Village in a Valley
A Thatched Roof
For Adults Only
Down the Garden Path
Women and Children Last
The Star Spangled Manner
Are They the Same at Home?
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Or, A Country Pf^ttkout A Hero
By BEVERLEY NICHOLS
DOUBLEDAY, DORAN & COMPANY, INC.
New York 1938
BY BEVERIBY NICHOLS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
There was a day when you disagreed so strongly with one
of my books that you honoured me by writing a reply to it.
Across the cover of that book was printed in large letters,
'Beverley Nichols Refuted'.
I wish that on the cover of this book I might return the
compliment, and write * Yeats-Brown Refuted 9 . But 'News
of England', far from being a refutation of your philoso~
phy, is in some ways an endorsement of it. That, at least,
is how it seems to me. You are too generous a man to say
*/ told you so'. The fact remains that you did, and I am
glad to have the opportunity of here acknowledging it.
I A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO ... i
II TOWERS OF BABEL 17
III THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS .... 30
IV UP IN THE CLOUDS 45
V THE GODDESS OF CHANCE .... 59
VI THE SOBER TRUTH 74
VII THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS ... 85
VIII STUDY IN RED 101
IX HOME OF LOST CAUSES 117
X PAGLIACCI 134
XI SOCIETY PAGEANT 143
XII FINE FEATHERS 157
XIII DIVERTISSEMENT 168
XIV WAVE LENGTH 180
XV SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY. , 196
XVI DISTRESSED AREA 213
XVII BLACK DIAMONDS 227
XVIII DOWN THE MINE 237
XIX INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN 245
XX UNKNOWN QUANTITY 261
XXI THE BITTER END 284
[ mii ]
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Or, A Country Without A Hero
A Country Without a Hero
GREY CLOAK, a brace of greyhounds, a pair of gilt
spurs, a pound of cumin, a salmon spear, a pair of white
gloves, a hundred shillings and a pound of pepper , . .
these are the gifts which, in the year 1938, are still
presented to King George VI of England on his visit
to the Duchy of Cornwall.
He travels from London by one of the speediest trains
in the world. It flies through a country that even his
father would hardly recognize, so quickly are the old
landmarks passing. As he receives these feudal dues,
which seem to have been brought not only from another
civilization but from another world, the fastest bombers
in Europe dip in salute, high above him. But still the
ancient gifts are laid at his feet ... a grey cloak, a brace
of greyhounds, a pair of gilt spurs.
It is not merely a picturesque anachronism. It is a
highly significant trait in the national character, that
character which clings steadfastly to ancient forms, long
after the realities which moulded them have been for-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
gotten, and long after the spirit which inspired them
has died away.
It is as significant as the bunch of newly-cut flowers
which the Recorder of London always carries with him
as, in his scarlet robe, he enters the court of the Old
Bailey to administer the law of the land. The fragrance
of those flowers drifts back through the centuries, to
the time when the stench of the wicked was so over-
powering that the delicate nostrils of the court were
offended, and sought protection in the pinks and laven-
ders which might then be plucked not so very far away,
in the fields of Lincoln's Inn,
To-day, the prisoner at the bar has had a bath,
whether he likes it or not. The court is air-conditioned
and centrally heated. But the flowers remain in the
hand of the Recorder, apparently fadeless; a symbol of
the unbroken continuity of English law.
It is this almost passionate adherence to the language
of the past, at the very moment when we are thinking
in the language of the future (and often determining
the cadences of that language), this obstinate practice
of pouring our new wine into old bottles, which makes
England the despair of foreign observers. A country
which so persistently says one thing and does another
is inexplicable. Worse than inexplicable. Perfide.
At the same time, it is exceedingly interesting. More
interesting to-day than at any time in history.
In the following pages some effort will be made, how-
ever inadequate, to portray some of the chief features
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
which differentiate the England of 1928 from the
England of 1938. But before we can do that it will be
necessary, very briefly, to obtain some sort of bird's-eye
view of the position of England, and the Empire, in rela-
tion to the rest of the world. Such a survey, though
brief, need not be superficial. There are certain facts
about that position which are, sad to relate, only too
The position is one of extreme danger. On the material
side we have the prospect of an undisciplined nation
with a declining population in possession of an utterly
unreasonable proportion of the world's riches. This na-
tion, which is led by a committee of dreamers and
grandfathers (whose faltering steps are hampered by
an irresponsible and ignorant opposition), finds itself
confronted by new nations of immense strength, led by
young and ruthless men, whose fingers are itching to
pick our pockets.
But the material danger is not the greatest danger.
It is true that our armaments are (and always must be)
ludicrously insufficient to defend our territories, but
that, after all, is a risk we share with all other nations,
great or small. There is no real defence against modern
armaments ... a dozen lunatics let loose in the air
might paralyse the heart of an Empire. It is also true
that the most startling rise in our birth-rate would still
leave vast tracts of our Empire unpopulated for cen-
turies, but that, again, is a problem we share with
other countries. We have long accustomed ourselves
to the paradox of dictators who, at the very time that
they are demanding territories to accommodate their
* teeming millions' are also urging those teeming mil-
lions to reproduce themselves faster and faster, and
NEWS OF ENGLAND
are offering them every sort of inducement to do so.
These problems, which are common to every great
power (though with us they are to be seen in their
most acute stage), might be settled by a foreign policy
which was animated by a little Christian charity , . .
by a foreign policy, in other words, which was sternly
realistic (for only in Christianity will you find a realism
that really works).
They might be settled were it not for the other danger,
a danger far greater than an inadequate army or air
force. It is a danger of the spirit which threatens
England won the war. England has nothing left to
fight for. And as a result, England, to many foreign
observers, is like a rich old woman whose sole ideal is
to keep what she has got. And even this ideal, in their
opinion, she holds somewhat feebly. In the last munici-
pal elections, which affect the individual welfare and
the individual pocket almost as closely as the national
elections, 64.6 per cent did not even trouble to vote.
In spite of every possible facility, in spite of an army of
free cars, and a national press campaign, urging upon
every man and woman the importance of registering his
vote, only 704,832 people went to the polls, and the
k remaining 1,253,034 just couldn't be bothered. It is a
strange reflection on the mentality of the nation which,
throughout history, has been held up to the other na-
tions as a pattern of representative government!
England, it would appear, no longer cares about
England. With equanimity the majority of the popula-
tion has witnessed the destruction of London, and its
transformation into the shoddiest capital in the world.
With hardly a protest we have assisted at the desecra-
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
tion of the countryside, till every other village is an
advertisement of the fact that we are not only a nation
of shopkeepers but a nation of usurious vandals.
With sang-froid we tolerate slum conditions which the
authoritarian states, with their empty treasuries, would
not tolerate for a month. With indifference we accept
a chaotic and antiquated road-system, which is paralys-
ing our transport and filling our cemeteries.
We shall have so much evidence of this apathy in the
later pages that it need not here be stressed. But it
should be remembered that this spiritual degeneration
is the true explanation of the chaos of our foreign policy,
to which we must now revert.
There are not many times in the history of nations
at peace when it can honestly be said that the majority
of the people are moved by a great ideal. It is easy
eneugh to have a great ideal in time of war, in fact, you
can hardly have a war without one, even if it has to be
manufactured by the War Office (as it usually is). But
in time of peace, in a stable country, unmenaced by
revolution, great ideals are rare.
That is why the genuine enthusiasm of so many
millions of Englishmen for the League of Nations was
so remarkable, and why the subsequent collapse of the
League left a deeper and more embittering impression
than is generally realized.
It is to the failure of our statesmen to admit that
collapse (for which they were largely responsible) and
to their insistence, even to this day, in treating a phan-
NEWS OF E NGLAND
torn as a reality, that we owe half the troubles of modern
It is easy to be shocked by the flagrant violation of
international treaties by Germany. But we forget that
German policy is the direct result of a long series of
betrayals, by the allied powers, of every pledge which
we gave at the end of the war. It would take too long
to list these betrayals. One picture must do duty for
what could only be accomplished on an immense canvas.
Last year I happened to be passing from Poland into
East Prussia. As I entered the neat little German pass-
port office I saw, hanging on the wall, a remarkable
map. It was a pre-Hitler map, dated 1930.
In this map, the various armies, navies and air forces
of Europe were represented by soldiers, ships, guns and
aeroplanes, drawn to scale. In the middle of Germany
stood a tiny soldier, representing 100,000 men. Round
the shores of Germany there were no ships, for her fleet
had been sunk. Over the skies of Germany, there was
one speck of an aeroplane, and on the frontiers of Ger-
many were two little guns.
But round Germany . . . from France, from Italy,
from England, from Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland,
Yugo-Slavia and all the rest of them, pointed immense
howitzers, forests of bayonets, the guns of mighty fleets.
The neighbouring skies were thick with planes. At every
vantage point towered soldiers, representing armies
which were reckoned by millions.
That was twelve years after we had signed a pledge to
disarm. Twelve years after we had demanded the
plaudits of posterity by proclaiming our adherence to
the principles of international settlement* During those
twelve years Germany had passed from crisis to crisis.
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
Those who did not know Germany in 1930, when utter
despair was written over the face of the land, when
the body of every boy and every girl was for sale for a
piece of bread, will never feel the sense of abiding shame
and horror that we, in the name of democracy and peace,
should have played our part in the torture gang of
We created Hitler. At the instigation of France, of
course, in whose crazy courses we have obediently
followed since the war. We made the advent of Hitler
not only inevitable but a part of the common justice of
things. And with our own hands we broke up the
League of Nations.
I have done as much as most English writers to gain
popular support for the League. At a time when Japan,
Germany and Italy were still members, before the farce
of the disarmament conference had been exposed, I
considered, as many men of greater eminence consid-
ered, that it was vital for all of us to do our utmost to
make this international court a reality.
What has happened since then? Japan has bared her
teeth, and departed. That was not the League's fault,
admittedly, but it did not make the task of the League's
friends any easier. A little later Germany, too, departed.
That was the League's fault, or rather the fault of
France and her satellite England, who both persisted in
treating the new Germany as a ticket-of-Ieave convict.
The departure of Germany made the task of the
League's friends almost impossible. After that came the
Italian episode. And instead of realizing, as I and a large
number of previous League enthusiasts realized, that
the League was dead, and that we must search around
for some other means to peace, the astonishing directors
NEWS OF E NGL AND
of our foreign policy continued for years as though
nothing had happened. Italy remained a member of the
League. The chief burglar stayed on as one of the chief
As if this were not enough, we were presented, by
France, with the Franco-Soviet pact. This pact, the
most grotesque instrument ever forged between two
great powers, is an alliance between Catholicism and
atheism, between capitalism and communism, between
radicalism and autocracy. We were told, blandly, that
it in no way affected the structure of the League, And
. . . shades of Palmerston ! . . , we pretended to believe it.
Is it any wonder that the English people, compelled to
watch these degrading antics on the part of our govern-
ments, forced, for lack of an alternative, to assent to a
policy which bore a strong resemblance to the whims of
an antiquated cocotte, should have turned away in
despair, and taken refuge in an apparently permanent
mood of embittered isolationism ?
In the meantime I, and thousands of others, resigned
from the League. I remember, at the time, one of His
Majesty's ambassadors observing to me that our foreign
policy, for years, had been inspired by the same spirit
that animated a certain charming but eccentric old
gentleman, the late Imperial Russian ambassador to
Rumania. For years he had sat in a threadbare embassy
in Bucharest, issuing Imperial decrees, as though the
Tsar were still holding court in Petrograd. Everybody
loved him in Bucharest, so they let him go his way.
They allowed him to stay in his embassy, stamping
illusory documents, issuing valueless passports, settling
points of etiquette which were as dead as the eagle
which had once fluttered on the Imperial standards*
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
And all the time, in the next street, the ambassador of
the Soviets chuckled and thumbed his nose at this
decrepit old man who was so eloquent an example of
the decadence of the old regime.
There is only one difference between this old man and
ourselves. He at least was harmless. But we, by burying
our head in the sand, are endangering not only our own
Empire but the peace of the whole world.
It is necessary to insist, ad nauseam, on the lunacy of a
pro-League policy in these latter years, long after the
League has ceased to exist. It is necessary for the simple
reason that a large proportion of the British public are
sunk in such apathy and indifference that they do not
realize it. If we had a foreign secretary who persistently
walked to Downing Street without his coat, waistcoat,
trousers, socks, and shoes we should justifiably regard
him as eccentric. But we do not appear to regard him
as at all eccentric when he persists in referring to a dis-
credited rump of French satellites as though it were an
international body. Nor do we appear to mind when he
takes his orders from the aforesaid rump. 1
We have had so many shocks, since the war, that we
seem to think that this is a perfectly normal situation.
Actually, of course, it is so fantastic that future histo-
rians, poring over yellowing documents in an effort to
form a final verdict on the Decline and Fall of the
British Empire, will rub their eyes and say, ' There must
be some other explanation, some subtle, secret thing
'This was, of course, written before the resignation of Mr. Anthony Eden,
NEWS OF E NGLAND
which caused this madness. After all, the men who had
charge of the Empire's destinies were not, by the ordi-
nary standards of education, half-wits. They were not,
by the ordinary standards of morality, rogues. And yet
. . . look at what they did ! '
Look at it ! Consider one delicate example, the recogni-
tion of Abyssinia.
I am writing at the beginning of 1938. It is exactly one
year and eight months since the last remnants of the
Abyssinian army were dispersed, and the Emperor,
broken in spirit but still carrying with him an aura of
majesty, boarded the ship which was to carry him to
these shores ... to carry him, incidentally, to increasing
humiliation, poverty and oblivion. Though the deep
sympathy of every decent man must be accorded to
Haile Selassie, it is yet, in many ways, unfortunate that
nature had endowed him with so gracious a physique,
such luminous eyes, such delicate tapering fingers. He
was of an entirely different mould from his subjects.
The world did not realize that. They did not realize
that Abyssinia was, in itself, a courtesy expression, and
that the Abyssinians were a collection of primitive
tribes, cruel, superstitious, riddled with disease. Those
few realists who pointed out that Italy was only doing,
on a somewhat larger and more efficient scale, what we
ourselves had done, time and again, in the past, and
that a thorough conquest by a Western power would
perhaps in the long run make life safer, healthier and
more agreeable for the Abyssinians themselves, were
regarded as brutal 'Fascists'.
However, even if the Abyssinians had been of the
same stock and culture as their Emperor, it would have
made little difference, once the war was won. Though
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
the conquest may not have been complete, though there
may be guerrilla warfare for years, Abyssinia, for all
practical purposes, was Italy's. And nothing but a world
war, on a scale that baffles the imagination, would ever
change that fact.
It is here that the future historian, examining the
aforesaid documents of to-day, will put his hand to his
head and say, in bewilderment, 'There must be some
mistake'. He will turn to 1938 and find the Abyssinian
legation still functioning in London. He will find
Abyssinia still * recognized* by the British Government,
long after it has ceased to exist. And as he looks at the
map he will shake his head and wonder why the British
map-makers do not still mark Calais as a British posses-
sion. For after all, we owned that . . . once!
It is possible that by the time these words are printed,
the British Government may have sulkily accepted the
inevitable and recognized the Italian conquest. But
by then, it will be too late. The harm has been done.
Italy has been driven into the arms of Germany, a
Fascist block has been formed, and the world has been
split into two hostile camps.
You will search in vain through English history to
find any period of our foreign policy which can offer
even a faint parallel to the ineptitude and criminal
negligence which has characterized the conduct of our
affairs in this matter.
It was suggested, on a previous page, that a little
practical Christianity might have saved our statesmen
NEWS OF E NGLAND
from some of their worst errors. It should not be neces-
sary to elaborate this thesis, but since Christianity is
still, to a large proportion of our population, a creed of
vague and impossible beauty, bearing little or no rela-
tion to modern affairs, we might spend a moment to
show that it is at least a good deal more 'realistic' than
the policies which have brought us to our present pass.
If you examine, with impartial eye, the principal
crises which have been precipitated, since the war, by
England (at the direction, of course, of France), you
will find, in nine cases out of ten, that they have been
brought about by a flouting of the elementary principles ,
Take the economic debacle of the early 'twenties,
ending in the collapse of the mark and the loss, to
English investors, of many millions. All that might
have been averted if the big-wigs of Versailles had
placed before them, on the treaty tables, a very simple
and uncompromising text from the New Testament
* Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our
The classic essay of J. M. Keynes, which the younger
generation would do well to take down from the shelves,
by name The Economic Consequences of the Peace, was,
in reality, only a variation on that one immortal theme,
Christ said: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup
and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion
and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which
is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them
may be clean also/ * . . And a more apposite description
of our whole attitude towards the League of Nations
it would be difficult to compose. He also said 'All they
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
that take the sword shall perish with the sword', and
that text might have caused some very awkward mo-
ments if it had been repeated, from time to time, during
the international orgy of armament makers which was
ironically termed 'The Disarmament Conference'.
All this, you may say, is ancient history. Perhaps.
But it is also modern history. God knows, we have got
ourselves into such a mess that it will need a divine
power to get us out of it. However, there is that divine
power, and we might do a good deal worse than invoke
its aid. It is too late for anything else. Consider the
German Colonial situation. Five years ago it might have
been settled on a basis of common justice. But since our
creation of Hitler . . . (and it cannot be too often re-
peated that Hitler is a direct product of the policies of
Downing Street and the Quai d'Orsay) ... is this any
longer possible ? We taught post-war Germany, for ten
years, that the only way to get anything was to take it.
We took out the old mailed fist, put it on her hand, and
buttoned it up. As a result, any simple obvious gesture
of justice which we may make will now be interpreted
> Besides, with our eyes blinded by the mists of Geneva,
is it any longer possible to make a simple obvious ges-
ture? Before making it we should have to consult the
Fourth wider-secretary to the Czecho-Slovakian Fisher-
ies Department. We should have to make quite certain
that we were in no way infringing Clause 476 of the
fifth postscript to the White Slave (Reciprocal Amend-
ments Act) of Ecuador (given at Geneva, somewhat
diffidently, October I4th, 1928). And we should have
to be very positive that the Russian ambassador to Peru
(if he had not been previously shot by Stalin, that pearl
NEWS OF ENGLAND
in the crown of democracy) would not have occasion to
protest that Peruvian 'democracy' would not be
This, English reader, is your policy. Not a parody of
it, but your policy. A policy which affects you so directly
that it is piling up your taxes, embittering your outlook,
and making you wish that you had been born in another
age. Many of your newspapers . . . though there are
honourable exceptions . , . are fooling you to the top
of your bent. They are drugging you with stories of our
'power'. They are flattering you with stories of our
Are you sure of either?
You are proud of living in a 'democracy', are you not ?
Of course you are. Proud that you are not f dragooned',
harried from pillar to post. Of course you are. Democ-
racy is a hallowed word. It seems almost indecent to
attack it. It means, or should mean, that the lodge-
keeper is as good a man as the squire. It means, or
should mean, that there is equality of opportunity for
me, you, and the man next door. It means, or should
mean, that every soldier carries a marshal's baton in his
knapsack, that every chorus girl has a ghostly, golden
star in her hand-bag, which one day she will pin on
Dressing Room Number i. It also means that any
English writer can write what he likes, when he likes,
how he likes.
In reality, of course, it means none of these things.
The mere possession of a Cockney accent is sufficient, in
this democratic England of 1938, to debar a man from
nine-tenths of the polite professions, and to make his
assaults on the remaining tenth exceedingly embarrass-
ing. In the same way (though again there are honourable
A COUNTRY WITHOUT A HERO
exceptions), the editorial policy of many of the news-
papers which are loudest in their championship of
liberty, is dictated by the advertisers. On the whole,
our press is still the freest in the world. But it is foolish
to ignore the fact that no newspaper proprietor, how-
ever enlightened, can afford to run a great national
paper without the revenue obtained from his advertis-
ers. It is equally foolish to blink one's eyes to the
possibility that some crisis may one day arise, perhaps
sooner than we expect, in which the interests of the
nation may run directly counter to the interests of the
advertisers. What is to happen then? The danger may
be remote but it is not academic. And the fact that it
exists at all ought to cause us to speak at least a little
less glibly about our own journalistic freedom in com-
parison with the slavery of the authoritarian press.
I detest the 'dictator* censorships. It sickens me to
think that the works of fine men are to be cast out into
the outer darkness because of some accident of race or
political disagreement. But I detest equally, if not more,
the hypocrisy of the ( democracies ', who claim to be so
far removed from a danger which is, actually, staring
them in the face.
We must be about our business. We must switch back
the searchlight from these foreign excursions and let it
play over our own shores,
'Trailers' are the fashion nowadays. We like to be
informed, at the movies, of the high-spots of the picture
we are shortly to see ... to know that there will be a
murder here, a snow-scene there, and that throughout
NEWS OF ENGLAND
the picture there will stalk the tall figure of X, the hero.
Well, in this book since I have now written it, and
am only adding this first chapter as an afterthought
it will be evident that there is no hero at all. A land
whose people are fat, foolish and ignorant, is no fit
breeding-ground for heroes. There was a time when we
might have had a hero of peace, when this country
(which did at least make a faint effort to disarm) might
have forced its will on the Comite des Forges, the arma-
ment ring which controls France, and through France,
Europe. That time has vanished. We are back again,
marching on the old road that leads so far from Tip-
But we are marching out of step, without a song, and
we are marching in circles.
Let us fall in, then, with the crowd, and walk through
this country that we love so much, that is so quickly
dying. And even before we have listened to the chatter
of our companions, the very stones in the streets will
have cried out to us that there is something wrong.
Towers of Babel
LHERE ARE APPROXIMATELY ten thousand architects
in Great Britain.
It would be an error, however, to assume that there
are only ten thousand schools of architecture. A brief
walk down Regent Street will soon dispel any such
Here the traveller staggers past facades of Egypto-
Commercial-Renaissance, with glimpses of neo-Tudor
up the side-streets. He passes from the shadow of
Edwardian Attic in the south to Dietrich Doric in the
north. If his eye is inclined to flinch, he can rest it on
cool spaces of business-Byzantine, or on deserts of
marble modernism relieved by an occasional oasis of
pseudo-Georgian Louis Seize.
Regent Street is only an example, in miniature, of a
process which has transformed London, in the past ten
years, into the ugliest capital in the world. This is no
longer a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.
London, admittedly, was always, architecturally, a
NEWS OF ENGLAND
muddle, but it was a glorious muddle. To-day it is a
This may or may not be a matter of concern to you,
on aesthetic grounds. There are many people who are
able to live in surroundings of blatant hideousness with-
out noticing them. They can travel down the Strand
on the top of a bus without having to shut their eyes.
They can walk up Park Lane, even on the brightest day,
without contracting a headache from the sight of the
monstrosities that line their path. The vulgarity, the
meaninglessness of their great city does not affect them.
But it should affect them. For architecture, more than
any other art, is the touchstone of a nation's spirit.
This, again, is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of
fact. And in view of this fact, the spirit of England is
A nation's architecture is even more valuable, as
evidence for the historian, than a nation's literature.
The philosophy of Plato, the plays of Aeschylus, the
method of Aristotle . . . these we have with us in their
entirety. But though they give us a whole world, in
which we can live and dream and have our being, they
do not tell us as much as the broken columns of the
Acropolis. These have the simplicity of flowers blooming
in a desert. They stand out, white and flawless, against
a backcloth of barbarism. And though their carven
petals may fall in dust about them, as long as a single
stem remains, we have before us a triumphant tribute
to the glory that was Greece.
* Beauty ', as Oscar Wilde said, in one of those arrowed
epigrams that pierced more deeply into the heart of
truth than he either knew or cared, 'beauty is the high-
est form of genius, because it needs no explanation'*
TOWERS OF BABEL
Say that to yourself in the middle of the Strand. And
then, if you dare, look about you. I think you will find
that the Strand needs a good deal of explanation. Some
of us wish that it could be explained away altogether.
Let us pause, for a moment, to examine this inter-
relation between national architecture and national
Consider Italy. The architecture of the Fascist regime
is tense as the muscles of a fighter's arm. It is consciously
tense, too; there is a quality of drama in it. The fighter
knows that the crowd is watching him, and as he salutes,
he gives the crowd its money's worth.
Not long ago I found myself, at noon, in the charming
city of Brescia. I wandered about, through medieval
streets, pausing to peer through a doorway, to look up
at some fresco of figured stucco. I encountered the re-
mains of a touring opera company, and watched the
scenery being carted away. The opera was Aida, and the
tarnished gold of the Egyptian columns and the crack-
ling purple of the canvas Egyptian sky looked strangely
pathetic in the sunlight.
Then suddenly I came into a modern square. Musso-
lini Square, I suppose it was called. Every other square
in Italy bears that name. And in a single step, I had
passed from the old world into the new.
The architecture was electric with energy. Stark
columns thrust themselves up with a power that can
only be called phallic. Flights of steps were so designed
that they seemed to impel the pedestrian to run up
NEWS OF ENGLAND
them , . . walking would have been incongruous. Two
towers swept skywards with the gesture of clenched
In the centre of it all was a statue of Mussolini on a
horse. Whether Mussolini or the horse looked the more
energetic, it would have been difficult to decide. They
both gave the impression that the least irreverence
would cause them to explode.
Now we come to the interesting point.
It was noon. The time when a man's forces, presuma-
bly, should be at their most powerful.
And all round the square, under the angry columns, in
the shade of the careering colonnades, the Italians slept.
They drowsed over their coffee. They nodded over
their newspapers. They curled themselves up on the
marble pavements and snored.
There, in the four sides of that square you had as
vivid a picture of modern Italy as you are ever likely
to see. The energy has been supplied by one man, Mus-
solini. Outwardly, he has infused this energy into this
people. Essentially, those people remain the same. They
are proud of their great buildings, proud of their swag-
gering uniforms, proud of their place in the sun. But no
sooner do they achieve that place in the sun, than they
sleep in it.
There was once a very brilliant article about Italy in
an American magazine called Fortune. The magazine
was banned in Italy, because it contained the irreverent
suggestion that Mussolini's principal task was *dc~
wopping the Wops.' 1 I wish the writer of that article
had been with me in Brescia. He would have seen that
Mussolini had still a great deal to do.
*'Wop' is a contemptuous slang expression for a New York Italian,
TOWERS OF BABEL
It would be fascinating to read, from the stones of the
nations, the manifold lessons that are to be read, to
compare the ruthless beauty of some of the modern
German buildings with the equally powerful beauty of
Sweden, to see how the German architecture is on the
defensive, as though its creators were subconsciously
dreaming of fortresses, while the Swedes, who have
never known the horrors of modern war, have opened
their arms to the sky.
Such a task would be beyond the scope of this book.
We must keep to England, and see what lessons we can
Of positive lessons, we shall discover nothing. Eng-
land, in architecture, ranks rather lower than England
in sport. At the last Olympic Games the British Empire,
as far as I remember, tied with Holland, and was con-
siderably outclassed by a large number of obscure
republics. So it is in architecture.
We are creating practically nothing of any value to
the future world. We are destroying practically every-
thing of any value which we have inherited from the
past. It is therefore on the purely destructive aspect of
English architectural effort that we shall be obliged to
Before I began to write this chapter I tried to get a
list of the various societies, institutions, corporations,
leagues, and all the rest of it, who, in their well-meaning
but completely ineffective way, endeavour to stem the
tide of barbarism which is turning England into an
NEWS OF E NGLAND
I began with 'The National Trust for Places of His-
toric Interest or Natural Beauty'. I learned that its
president is H.R.H. The Princess Louise, Duchess of
Argyll, and that it has a distinguished list of "'honorary
vice-presidents', ranging from the Rt. Hon. the Earl
of Lytton to Mr. George Lansbury. And though I take
off my hat to Mr. George Lansbury as one of the few
pacifists to whom the word ( peace* means peace, and
not 'pacts', nor any other thing beginning with P, I
should be interested to learn the precise qualifications
which Mr. Lansbury possesses for a position of this
Far be it from me to decry the National Trust. Fre-
quently in the clamour of modern destruction, its thin,
piping cry of 'Hands Off!' has been heard. Sometimes,
when no really big business is affected, its cry has actu-
ally been heeded. Of course, it is not allowed to interfere
too much. All the same it tries very hard.
Opening its 1937 report at random, we find items
such as this:
Bodiam Castle. Negotiations, as yet unfruitful, have
been made for the purchase of some marshland close to the
A new punt has been fought for the moat,
Two pages further on we discover with regard to that
lovely piece of England, Coombe Hill, that , . ,
Repairs have been effected, to ike hedges, and another
litter basket has been provided*
And before we have time to register our appreciation
of the litter basket, we are enchanted with the further
information that , . .
Members of the Committee met on the property to cut
back the undergrowth round the seats.
TOWERS OF BABEL
This is indeed gratifying. The members of the various
committees, according to this Report, include the Most
Honourable the Marquess of Zetland, the Viscount
Esher, Professor G. M. Trevelyan, Professor Julian
Huxley, the Right Honourable the Viscount Ullswater,
etc. etc. Whether these distinguished persons all gath-
ered together tf to cut back the undergrowth round the
seats' is not entirely clear to me. The Report leaves
it in a haze of fascinating mystery. But it is pleasant to
try to peer through that haze, and see, as in a dream,
the bent figures of marquesses, viscounts, historians and
scientists laboriously removing nettles from under the
benches in the park. A most elevating lesson in de-
And then . . . Runnymede . . . one of the most interest-
ing names in English history. In world history. The
name of the island where the first real charter of man's
liberties was signed. The island of Magna Carta. What
do we learn of this ? We learn that . . .
An arrangement has been tried, in co-operation with the
Egham District Council, for employing police to patrol the
If you are any the wiser, I am not. If you are inspired,
I am not. And if you do not fel sick, I do.
Admittedly, we are losing our temper.
But how can any man, who loves his country, who
cherishes the beauty of England . . . how can he keep
his temper in the face of such puerilities ?
The members of the National Trust probably feel as
NEWS OF E NGLAND
strongly as I do about these matters. That does not
alter the fact that their impotence is ludicrous. The
signs of it are scattered all over the land.
Their very existence is a scandal. Why should the
preservation of our country be left to a collection of
eager amateurs? Why is it not in the hands of the
State, as it is in the much abused authoritarian coun-
But the National Trust is only the beginning. There
are dozens of other Councils, Leagues, Bands of Hope
and Armies of Despair, all scrambling about our en-
lightened country, getting in each other's way, trying
to salve a little from the wreckage.
For instance, the Council for the Preservation of
Rural England. The Patron is H.M. the King. The
President is the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. The
executive committee glitters with distinction. But . . .
oh dear, oh deary me . . . the first thing that meets my
eye, as I open the monthly report, is the pathetic in-
formation that 'The Council needs an additional 1500
annual subscribers of one guinea. Do your best to help us
to obtain them. 3
Read that sentence very carefully. Let it linger in
your memory. Fifteen hundred guineas a year. The
equivalent of a few days' work by any competent film
star. Then, if you can bear it, reflect that we are spend-
ing 1,500,000,000 on preparing to blow to blazes the
'rural amenities' of any other country which may get
in our way. And then, pause, and trace on a piece of
notepaper your interpretation of Homo Sapiens, 1938-
And if you trace anything that does not bear a strong
resemblance to an ape in a gas-mask I shall question
TO WE RS O F BAB E L
Thickly they flock upon us. Here is 'The Society for
the Protection of Ancient Buildings'. What with Na-
tional Trusts, Councils for Preservation and all the rest
of them, we may be forgiven if we are a little confused.
Stretching out our hand towards the latest pile, we
pick up a leaflet entitled * Windmill section'. As we
open it we learn that the 'Windmill Section of the So-
ciety for the Protection of Ancient Buildings' (pause
for breath) is, as we might have expected, in a bad
way. It needs a great many people to give it five shillings
a year. It seems difficult to believe that anyone who
reads the pamphlet will refuse this little sum, after
learning such enchanting details about windmills. There
is a reproduction of one of Crome's loveliest landscapes,
in which a windmill is the keystone of the design. There
is a picture of a windmill drawn by the Duke of Windsor
when he was Prince of Wales. Best of all, there is a quo-
tation from an essay in praise of windmills by Robert
Louis Stevenson, which shows him at his very happiest.
I make no excuse for quoting it:
'There are, indeed, few merrier spectacles than that
of many windmills bickering together in a fresh breeze
over a woody country; their halting alacrity of move-
ment, their pleasant business, making bread all day
with uncouth gesticulations; their air, gigantically hu-
man, as of a creature half active, putting a spirit of
romance into the tamest landscape. When the Scotch
child sees them first he falls immediately in love; and
from that time forward windmills keep turning in his
NEWS OF ENGLAND
In spite of this the windmills of England continue to
crumble and fall. There was a time when William Cob-
bett, taking his 'Rural Rides', could write, "The wind-
mills on the hills in the vicinage (of Ipswich) are so
numerous that I counted, whilst standing in one place,
no less than seventeen. They are all painted and washed
white; the sails are black; it was a fine morning, the
wind was brisk, and their twirling together added
greatly to the beauty of the scene *.
How many windmills would Cobbett have been able
to count to-day?
It is not without reason that we are reminded of the
classic story of the Due de Vivone who, when asked by
Louis XVI if he remembered a windmill that used to
stand in the park at Versailles, replied, 'Yes, Sire. The
mill has gone, but the wind is still there*.
On too many English hills the mill has gone, and the
wind blows over the deserted stones ... or worse,
through the synthetic thatch of a neo-Tudor bungalow.
We have hardly begun. Here, clamouring for our sup-
port is the Georgian Group. Lord Derwent is its chair-
man. It has a distinguished committee. It confines its
attention to buildings which have been erected from
It has not come into being any too soon. Berkeley
Square * , , the very name is beautiful . . . has dis-
appeared, and is rapidly being transformed into a series
of Russian factories. Grosvenor Square has gone, and
Portman Square, and St. James's Square- Dreadful
TOWERS OF BABEL
little imitations of Park Avenue have been erected on
their sites. Bedford Square remains, but is already
threatened, by the British Museum on one side (irony of
ironies !) and the Duke of Bedford on the other.
It seems incredible that the British Museum should
express its culture by contemplating the wanton de-
struction of some of London's loveliest buildings, but
that is the British way. It is as thoroughly British as
the action of the University of London, which has
already torn down a corner of charming old Brunswick
Square in order to make way for a Pharmaceutical
School in the style of a Queen Anne rectory. If this is
the example set by the guardians of English culture,
what are we to expect from the ordinary men of busi-
ness? As Robert Byron, the deputy chairman of the
Georgian Group, has observed, 'We were always a
nation of shopkeepers; but we used not to be, con-
sciously, a nation of usurious vandals '.
And still they come, these bands of gallant workers,
trying, with such meagre results, to save a little from
the wreckage. Here is the London Society. Chairman,
Lord Esher. Vice-chairman, Sir Alfred Rice-Oxley. As
distinguished a list of Vice-Presidents as any man could
want. The aim of the society is to * stimulate a wider
concern for the beauty of the capital city, the preserva-
tion of its charms, and the careful consideration of its
What a hope! Does it not strike you as fantastic
that only the other day did the London County Council
pass a resolution asking for the necessary authority to
'town plan' the whole of the City of London? We are
supposed to be an intelligent people. London is the
centre of a not inconsiderable Empire. And we are so
NEWS OF E NGLAND
careless of our heritage, so devoid, not only of common
taste but common sense, that it is not till we find our-
selves spending half our lives in a traffic-block that we
suggest that the planning of our city might be regarded
as a whole!
This book would be endless if we continued the list
of these voluntary associations. I would like to have
paid tribute to the Metropolitan Public Gardens Associ-
ation of which Queen Mary is President. It does its best,
against tremendous odds, to keep a few of London's
green spaces green, to prevent every old burial ground
from forming the site for a new cinema. However, we
have had enough. The main point which we set out to
make . . . that the very existence of these societies is,
in itself, a scandal . . . may be considered as made.
We will end with a picture. It is a picture which will
prove, more clearly than any arguments, the impotence
of all these trusts, councils, committees and associations.
It will prove, more strongly than any denunciation, the
indifference of the modern Englishman to all his heritage
of beauty. I only hope that there may be a few English-
men who will feel, even for a moment, a fleeting shame.
Not long ago, I was in Lincoln. I climbed the steep
hill to the cathedral It is one of the loveliest buildings
in our country, not only in its intrinsic detail, but in its
situation, standing so proudly against the sky as a per-
petual monument to a faith we are forgetting,
I wandered all over the cathedral, and came out feel-
ing a better man. I walked through the courtyard, under
TOWERS OF BABEL
the great Gothic gate, out into a little Georgian square.
Here I turned, to take a last look.
And as I did so, a notice caught my eye. It hung on
a building opposite me. It read , . .
THIS DESIRABLE FREEHOLD SITE
SUITABLE FOR THE ERECTION OF
A CINEMA ETC.
I have been quite angry enough in this chapter with-
out becoming any angrier. The facts speak for them-
selves. The building on which this notice was hanging
was exactly opposite the gate of one of the most hal-
lowed shrines of England. At the most, it was fifty yards
from that gate. Immediately behind it was the historic
wall of Lincoln Castle. And this was the site on which,
presumably, we shall shortly see gigantic representa-
tions of Miss Mae West.
The only thing I need add to those facts is a brief
personal note. As soon as I saw that notice I wrote as
violent an article as I could write without infringing the
laws of libel and published it in a newspaper which has
a circulation of nearly a million. Not one reader wrote
in to express either his agreement or even his interest.
In the same paper was published a short paragraph
announcing the death of my dog. I was snowed under
with letters of condolence from all parts of Great Britain.
The letters were very welcome. But , , , well ... I have
The Sound of the Sirens
AN TIME OF WAR the aesthete may gain a slight conso-
lation from the rapidly increasing hideousness of Eng-
land's great cities, by reflecting that these buildings were
certainly made to be blown up, and are only getting
their deserts. But the average man will be denied such
comforts. It will not make much difference to him
whether he is choking to death in the cellar of some
charming old Georgian house or in the Tudor swimming
pool of a modern apartment building. It is his life he
will care about, and perhaps in his last moments he may
wonder why he did so strangely little to protect it.
This book, through no fault of mine, is a series of
variations on the theme of national apathy. And of all
the examples of this apathy to be encountered in mod-
ern England none is more striking than the attitude
of the average man to the question of defence from air
It is not entirely the fault of the government. The
directors of our destinies, who are aware of the facts,
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
are in a considerable panic about them, as anybody with
inside knowledge will agree. But they appear to be un-
able to transmit their apprehension to the majority of
the population. How otherwise can you account for the
phenomenon of the burghers of Brighton ?
The names of the Brighton Town Councillors may,
or may not, be remembered in the future histories of
this little island. If they are not remembered, it will be
through no fault of mine.
Not because they are playing any vital part in the
destiny of the nation. Not because humanity is in their
debt. Simply because among them are several men
whom it would be impossible to meet, in the year 1938,
outside England. These men, I am thankful to say, are
in a minority. But since there are tens of thousands of
their kidney scattered throughout England, a knowledge
of their mentality is essential to any man who wishes to
understand us as we really are to-day.
Brighton is only an hour from the capital. It is ex-
ceedingly bracing, and it offers to the Londoner the
same sort of pleasant vulgarity as Atlantic City offers
to the New Yorker.
Brighton, in the next war, lying as it does in a position
of great vulnerability, will present an irresistible target
to an enemy air force. True, its nearest approach to
fortifications are its pleasure piers, and its only form of
weapons are the pop-guns with which the children fire
at pebbles on the beach. But by now it is realized,
through bitter experience, that no air force makes the
least differentiation, in modern warfare, between civilian
and military objectives. And though every decent man
must recoil in horror from the prospect of the slaughter
of innocent civilians there are some of us who feel that
NEWS OF E NGLAND
if there is to be any slaughter, innocent civilians are
entitled to receive their share of it just as violently as
innocent soldiers. There is something a little nauseating
about the sudden conversion to pacifism of thousands
of persons who, as long as there was no danger to them-
selves, were ceaselessly uttering bellicose sentiments.
However, that is by the way. The point we wish to
make is that though England, at this moment, contains
a number of people in a panic, it also contains a far
greater number of people who are sound asleep. And
among them are the afore-mentioned town councillors.
Not long ago there was a meeting of the Brighton
Town Council to discuss plans for air-raid exercises. It
was high time those exercises were carried out. On the
Continent, towns of Brighton's importance had been
carrying out such exercises for years. They had a com-
plete system of ' black-outs ', elaborate schemes for the
evacuation of the population, and an impressive array
of shelters. But at Brighton there was nothing. Nobody
had been given an order to turn out a single electric
light. With war a daily menace on the horizon, Brighton
dreamed on tranquilly, congratulating itself on its
Then, at last, Brighton woke up* It woke up with
such a shock that one of the most distinguished members
of the Town Council felt bitterly aggrieved. So aggrieved
that he rose to his feet and uttered these historic words
(for as a sidelight on the mentality of English public
men, in these years of danger, they are historic). He
'It is outrageous that Brighton should be the one sea-
side place to start frightening away its visitors by having
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
To which another town councillor, of equal promi-
nence, added a loud 'Hear, hear', and proclaimed the
opinion that such exercises would be very 'bad pub-
Bad publicity! Frighten away visitors! It seems in-
credible that any men could make such statements when
the lives of children were at stake. And indeed, it would
be incredible, in any country but England. Not because
England is any less humane than any other country.
But because England, to the Brighton mentality, is still
an island. It is still a
. . . fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war.
It is still
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands.
It would seem that the time has come for us to revise,
not only our histories, but our geographies as well.
At this day and hour it should not be necessary to
emphasize the vulnerability of England in time of war.
And yet, this fact is not even partially realized by the
After all, it is a long time since the days of William
the Conqueror, when we were last invaded. It is a long
time, too, since the last war, when air raids, compared
N EWS OF ENGLAND
with modern air raids, were no more irritable than a
swarm of flies. We do not realize that the whole history
of the world might be changed in forty-eight hours, and
that we might suddenly descend from our proud posi-
tion, as an Imperial race, to a position akin to that of
Holland, but a Holland with empty coffers and a starv-
This prospect still sounds to us like a fantasy by Mr.
H. G. Wells. Would to God that it were!
It is necessary to emphasize, at the risk of wearying
the reader, the slothful complacency of the English
mentality, for the simple reason that this complacency
is the chief handicap of the air-defence authorities, who,
as we have observed, are in no mild state of alarm over
the whole problem.
They are keen and able young men. But though they
may know exactly what ought to be done, as they sit
in their offices in Horseferry House, Westminster, look-
ing out of their wide windows on to the jumbled, closely-
packed roofs of London, they can't do it. They can only
do a fraction of it. Because of that strange, changeless
force, the English spirit, which makes a fetish of all that
is 'voluntary' and would prefer to be led to destruction
rather than to be driven to safety.
And even that fraction which is being done has to be
wrapped up in a manner which must strike the foreign
observer as highly diverting.
For example, consider the question of air-raid
4 wardens *. That is the name that has been chosen, by
the authorities, to describe the voluntary workers who,
in time of war, will be responsible for seeing that certain
elementary precautions are taken in their immediate
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
The very word is significant. It has a Dickensian
flavour about it. It suggests a capacious stomach, a
heavy tread, a ruddy complexion, and a deep bass voice,
uttering slow solemnities. It certainly does not suggest
anything approaching the keen, swift-moving, young
district commanders who, in totalitarian states, are
trained for instant action in the case of air raids, who
may be said to spend their lives on their toes, with their
eyes to the skies.
But if the word is significant, the reality is more so.
For there is to be nothing young, or swift, or dashing
about the English wardens. If you read through the
sober language of the official Air Raid Precautions
Memorandum on this subject, you will learn that . . .
Air-raid wardens should be responsible men, and save
in very exceptional circumstances, they should be over
thirty years of age.
Nothing flighty about that, you will agree. Nor about
the following . . .
The general idea of an air-raid warden is that he should
be a responsible member of the public chosen to be a leader
and adviser of his neighbours in a small area a street or
group of streets in which he is known and respected.
If we were describing the qualifications for the ideal
churchwarden, we could not have used phrases more
It is the same throughout this memorandum. It is a
very interesting document. For if you study it closely
enough, you can learn quite a lot about the mentality
which animates Britain as opposed to the mentality
which animates the totalitarian states. For example, it
will be very clearly brought home to you that life in
this island is still largely directed by and for the older
NEWS OF EN GLAND
generation, whereas in the totalitarian states it is almost
exclusively directed by and for the younger generation.
The memorandum states . . .
On general grounds the older mm, with a good sense of
responsibility and of a type to inspire confidence among
their neighbours, will be most suitable.
Quite true, no doubt, at any rate in Britain. But when
I read it I thought of the middle-aged man who stood
with me on a bridge at Nuremberg, not long ago, staring
at a band of Hitler Jugend who were marching by with
a song on their lips. A few minutes before, the leader of
the advance guard had cycled up and required him,
politely but firmly, to move his car into a side-street,
as it might interfere with the procession. The boy who
gave the order could not have been more than eighteen,
the man who obeyed it could not have been less than
forty-five. He obeyed without hesitation. All he said
was a sad little sentence, which told me so much . , .
*Im heutigen Deutschland ist alles Leben fur die
And not only in Germany is life organized for the
young. In Italy youth has been dramatized (for that is
really the only word for it) in an even more spectacular
*0ggi e Pepoca della balilla/
And this phrase which stares at you from a hundred
street-corners, in great letters splashed over wine-shops,
on walls and bridges, is echoed in shrill voices by the
songs of the children, marching in their little black
shirts, with their little rifles over their shoulders, to-
wards a destination which no man can foresee.
Such a spectacle is revolting to any man of peace.
God grant that we may never witness it in England.
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
But there is a very great difference between the whole-
sale militarization of the younger generation, which we
see in Italy, and the mild discipline which some of us
feel is so vital in this country.
In England, youth is undisciplined because youth is
not trusted. The idea of young Bill giving orders to old
Bill would be regarded with righteous indignation. Why,
old Bill fought in the war! True, he's a little shaky on
his legs just now, and inclined to forget things, but . . .
well, everybody knows old Bill. And though young Bill
may be quite a decent sort, and though he may be keen
on all this air business, he's only twenty-two, and he
might be dragging us out of bed at all hours of the night.
No, thank you, old Bill's the man for us. And if we
have to have any meetings about all this dam foolish-
ness, we'll have them in the local pub, where we can
swop stories about the last war, and not trouble too
much about the next one.
Even more, as we study the wording of this memoran-
dum, are we struck by its insistence upon the voluntary
nature of our precautions. A puzzled foreigner, ac-
customed to being told what to do, and doing it, might
almost mistake it for a charter of English liberties in-
stead of a very urgent recommendation upon a very
urgent problem. 'Volunteers', 'voluntary', 'purely
voluntary* . . . the report abounds in these expressions,
as though the authors of it were terrified that any critic
might possibly accuse them of introducing the thin edge
And indeed, they are terrified of that possibility.
'If any nosey young official came round to my door,
and told me to put on a gas-mask (which I regard as the
invention of the devil), Fd slam the door in his face, and
NEWS OF ENGLAND
if necessary go to prison before I'd wear it.* That is an
extract from an actual letter which I received after an
article which I once wrote suggesting that there should
be compulsory training in anti-gas measures. I had
not realized that the word 'compulsion 7 is still, to the
average Briton, the ugliest word in the language.
Therefore, our Air Defence experts have to walk
warily. Theirs is a difficult and most unenviable job.
As perhaps, the following section may convince you.
One would have thought that when a man's house is
on fire he would not have worried very much about the
political opinions of the members of the fire-brigade.
He would not hang back, on the sill of a blazing window,
because the fireman happened to be a conservative
while he himself was a liberal.
Yet this is precisely what a large section of the popu-
lation of modern England are doing.
There lies before me an elegant monthly entitled Dis-
cussion. Its date is December 1937. It is one of the many
communist publications with which the bookstalls of
modern England are being flooded. On the cover it
proclaims its motto . . . * Without a Revolutionary
Theory there can be no Revolutionary Movement' . , .
an observation which, one would imagine, was suffi-
The main part of this magazine is devoted to a dis-
cussion, by various communists, of the attitude which
should be adopted towards the government's air-raid
precautions. And the principal conclusion at which they
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
arrive is that the air-raid wardens must be apostles of
the class war. Not a word is said about their efficiency
for the job in question, no suggestion is made as to their
training. All that matters is that they should be revo-
'Not only could militant workers, communists,
Labour comrades and Trade Unionists be invaluable in
these positions, from the point of view of the struggles
against the war-making Government', states the report,
'but because of their class line and knowledge of the
working people they would be able really to help the
And again ... 'It is not too late to make the apparatus
of the wardens a medium of expression of the demands
of the workers.'
And yet again . . . 'Every support must be given to
the authorities at present holding out against paying
any of the cost of the Government's defence proposals.'
A government which attempts the task of defending
its people from air attack, is not greatly assisted by such
an attitude. At every step the authorities are hampered
by the workers whom they are endeavouring to protect.
Their efforts are met either with ridicule or with sus-
picion. During the recent 'black-out' in the Nore Pas-
sive Defence Area, which covers a big territory on both
sides of the Thames estuary, thousands of workers stood
about and jeered. *A comic opera show' was the way in
which most of the socialist papers described it. And
when efforts were made, by the government, for the
more extensive circulation, among the poorer classes,
of the official Memorandum on Air Raid Wardens, they
were met by the sullen hostility which is evident in the
discussion which we have been quoting, where the
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Memorandum is described as 'a blue print for a vast
machine for spying on working-class organizations'.
Now do you see why the young men who sit in high
offices at Horseferry House are obliged to walk warily ?
For we are a * democracy', are we not? Therefore we
would infinitely prefer to be blinded, shattered, suffo-
cated or disembowelled than to suffer the horror of
being directed by experts who know what they are talk-
And now let us visit one of the largest air-raid shelters
in England, and study the attitude towards it of the
people whom it may one day save from a violent death.
Not long ago I found myself walking down the front
at Dover with a landlady and a stockbroker. Why I was
doing this I cannot for the moment recall. Anyway they
were both very charming people.
It was a warm golden day in late summer, the sort
of day when an air raid is the last thing that one wants
to think or talk about. Yet, for some reason or other, we
found ourselves talking about air raids, and suddenly
the landlady said, ' If you're interested you ought to see
our air-raid shelter/
' Where is it ?'
'Under the cliff/
'Can we see it?'
*I suppose so/
'And go in it, and inspect it, and make notes?'
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
'But we might be spies. Or we might drop a time-fuse
and blow the whole cliff down.'
'My dear fellow, this is England. Not Germany/
Very evidently, it is England and not Germany. For
anything more English than that air-raid shelter it
would be difficult to conceive. Which is not quite what
I mean, for the shelter itself is Roman yes, it dates as
far back as that. The adjective 'English' should apply
to the manner in which the air-raid shelter is guarded
by the authorities. You see, it is not guarded at all.
Remember, this shelter may one day be the means of
saving the lives of five thousand people in a town which
is particularly liable to attack. Remember too, that the
attack as we are constantly warned may come upon
us more swiftly than any storm-wind that ever swept
the Straits of Dover.
And then, see how we look after this place which is
so vital to the safety of our people. We wander along the
sea-front. The landlady, the stockbroker, and myself.
The landlady and the stockbroker are inclined to be
petulant, as it is a hot afternoon, and they would very
much rather be bathing, in their different ways. (Land-
ladies and stockbrokers, as everyone knows, have quite
different ways of bathing.) However, I insist on seeing
'It was used in the last war/ says the landlady, rather
crossly. 'There's nothing new about it.'
'On the contrary, there's a lot that's new about it,'
said the stockbroker, f or there wouldn't have been so
many people working on it, for so long. The fact that
they've laid on water is new. It looks as though they
expected people to be in there for days on end/
NEWS OF E NGLAND
'You give me the creeps,' said the landlady, and
Up a side-street, into a yard, and here we are. It is
difficult to realize that in this little yard (open to all
comers!) is the entrance to a shelter which may mean
life or death to thousands. For it is such an ordinary
little yard. Strewn with old timber and various pieces
of junk, such as you see in any seaport town. An ancient
car stands before the entrance. Let us hope that it will
be moved away before the next war.
A pleasant house adjoins the yard. The home of Mr.
King, the owner of the yard. The stockbroker goes to
A head appears over the stairs. Mr. King says he will
be very pleased to show us over, if we will wait while he
gets a candle. He apologizes for the need of a candle, but
explains that the neighbouring kids were always running
into the shelter to turn on the electric light.
'So the government switched it off, 5 he says.
He escorts us, with the candle, across the yard. On
the way, the stockbroker notices a pile of old sinks in
a corner. 'How much are the sinks?' inquires the stock-
broker, who is building a new house. Mr. King tells him
that they are two shillings each, and cheap at that. A
bargain is struck. And so, we enter the shelter.
It is chill inside here, in this great cave, which stretches
and stretches, through dark to greater dark, under the
towering hills. Chill and a little frightening, in its loneli-
c lt wants people in it, to make it matey,' observes Mr.
THE SOUND OF THE SIRENS
We walk on and on. Round corner after corner. It
grows increasingly cold.
Yes, I think, it certainly wants people in it. Five
thousand of them. Crouched together while the bombs
thunder outside, and the echoes of their falling roar like
wind through the twisted caverns. Staring at each other,
tight-lipped, while the children scream. Wondering if
their breathing is quite normal, wondering if the gas
has got in, if there isn't perhaps a cloud, just a faint
yellow cloud, over the lamps.
Mr. King reads my thoughts,
'See that sand?' His candle flickers over a pile of
sand, freshly thrown on to the floor.
'That's for sandbags/ he says. 'They didn't have to
have those in the last war. But now, with all this gas . . .
And look here . . /
His knuckles rap sharply on the wall. It sounds hol-
low. As the candle flickers over it we see that it is a
door, let into the side of the cliff.
'That's in case the gas gets too hot for 'em. If it does,
you just break down this door. And the whole lot goes
charging down another passage and ends up in the Drill
Silence. He taps again. Echoes. It is my imagination,
of course, and obviously a very disordered one, but the
echoes seem to grow louder, to chase each other, to
grow louder still, to swell into screams . . . the screams
of a maddened mob, trampling through those channels
of chalk as the gas pursues them.
'Oh God . . . what's that?'
A hand on my arm. Yes. It was a scream. High-
'Quick! Somebody's hurt.'
NEWS OF ENGLAND
The stockbroker has plunged into the darkness. I
follow, stumbling. Then a voice, shrilling cheerfully . . .
'It's all right/
And as I turn the corner, I see a little boy with a tear-
stained face, clinging whimpering to the wall. Just a
little boy who had got lost in the dark.
Up in the Clouds
TRAGIC SITUATION which is swiftly revealing it-
self to us, in a manner that must necessarily be staccato
and incomplete, is heightened by the fact that the
English people have always been accustomed to the best
that the world has to offer. Needless to say that 'best*,
for the very poor, has frequently been miserable indeed,
but it is not too much to suggest that a greater happi-
ness for a greater number has been found, in these
islands, more often than in any other country, with the
possible exception of the United States.
We have not suffered invasion since the days of
William the Conqueror. Our only revolution was a
storm in a teacup compared with the revolutions which
have swept the continent. Such religious persecution as
we have endured has been hardly worthy of the name
when we think of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.
Dictatorship has been practically unknown to us. And
since the days of Elizabeth a stream of treasure and
riches has washed our shores with an influence upon our
NEWS OF ENGLAND
society as beneficent as the influence of the Gulf Stream
upon our climate.
Moreover, we have been not undeserving of these
benefits. If Empires had to be, the British were certainly
as well fitted as any other people to possess one. The
men who had been nurtured in liberty at home were
able, without offence to their self-respect, to pass on at
least a modicum of that liberty to their subject peoples.
The men who had experienced so wide a tolerance were
not liable to insist upon too harsh an orthodoxy from
those of an alien race and an alien creed.
The British Constitution is, of course, the supreme
example of our genius for administration. I am sure that
a large number of our people do not realize that there
is no such thing as the British Constitution. There is
merely a collection of traditions, precedents and laws,
written and unwritten, stretching back into the mists of
history. Nothing even vaguely resembling the American
Constitution exists, or ever has existed. Yet this curious,
floating mass of ancient custom works^ with remarkable
efficiency. And it not only works but has shown itself
capable of enduring strains which would have torn to
tatters the most logical and ingenious structure that
man could have devised, if it had ever been committed
Since we have been accustomed to the best in the past,
we might naturally suppose (since we are superficially
at the height of our prosperity) that we should be en-
titled to the best in the future. Since we have ample
UP IN THE CLOUDS
means to do so, it would be thought that we would have
spared no effort that would enable us to consolidate our
inheritance and to enjoy its amenities.
Such a supposition involves us, inevitably, in a con-
sideration of the air. If the Empire is to survive at all it
will survive as an Empire of the air. That is even more
true if there is peace than if there is war. Of course, it is
obvious that a nation's commercial aviation must have
a very direct connection with its military strength,
since all commercial planes can be swiftly and efficiently
adapted for war-purposes. However, the war menace is
too urgent to need stressing. It is the peace menace
which we are so tragically apt to forget. 1
Not long ago there was a debate in the House of
Commons which should have made a far greater sensa-
tion than it actually did. It was initiated by a Mr.
Perkins who is one of the few members of Parliament
who have not only been up in an aeroplane but have
flown one themselves,
In it, among a great many other things, Mr. Perkins
* British commercial aeroplanes are the laughing-stock
of Europe. They raise a smile whenever they alight,
When one ex-war plane, with which the Imperial Air-
ways planned to start a night service, came down in
Berlin, German pilots hung a bird-cage on its tail/
This, remember, in a country which has always had
the best, in an age when our future history is written
in the air as surely as our past was written on the sea.
The English man-in-the-street is by now so accus-
l Every contention in this chapter has been more than vindicated by the
Cadman Report on Civil Aviation, which was published after these words
N E WS OF E NGLAND
tomed to daily revelations of his country's incompe-
tence, that he is apt to dismiss such statements as
' alarmist '. It is a favourite word with him . . . ' alarmist'.
It has a rather superior tone. It also absolves him from
the necessity of doing anything.
I cannot think how any man who is even vaguely
acquainted with expert opinion can comfort himself with
such complacent words. After all, even if he is not in-
terested in his country's commerce, he surely has
sufficient decency to be interested in his countrymen's
lives ? A young air generation is growing up, keen, alert,
willing to take risks. In numbers, of course, the English
air generation is far smaller than that of any other
country of proportionate size and influence, but still it
does exist. And I should have thought that it would
have been impossible for the average man to hear,
with complacency, such accusations as those of Mr.
Perkins. . . .
Let me call a witness who is far more qualified to
express his indignation than I am Jim Mollison. He is
the greatest airman that England has yet produced.
What he does not know about British aviation is pre-
sumably not worth knowing. Here are a few phrases
from an article which he wrote in the Sunday Chronicle
at the end of 1937:
Croydon aerodrome (the chief civil aerodrome in
England) is a howling disgrace. Every time I have
landed there even when there were great crowds
to welcome me I have been ashamed. The landing
surface is bumpy. The field is surrounded on three
sides by buildings. Flying to it at night is a night-
UP IN THE CLOUDS
mare. No wonder Croydon is the laughing stock of
Europe. What Americans must think of it, I can
only guess, for I dare not discuss it with them.
Why do the Imperial Airways take nine or ten days
on the run to Brisbane? Three years ago Scott and
the late Campbell Black flew from England to
Australia in less than three days. Not long ago the
Dutch offered to do the run regularly in four days
if they were given fair support. No such support
The great majority of aeroplanes on the Empire
services are obsolete. On the India run and the run
to Singapore, where we ought to be showing the
world what we can do, we have a fleet of decrepit
old crocks. And these dreadful old hen-coops are
running in competition with foreign machines
which fly faster, take off quicker, land slower, and
beat ours by two whole days on the run to Singa-
Our sea trade was built up by competition. Our air
trade is being strangled by the absence of it. What
British civil aviation needs is competition. If I
wanted to start, say, a commercial air service to
South Africa I would get no help from the Govern-
ment. I should be suffocated out of the business
before I could get started. It is exactly as if the
Cunard White Star controlled all the harbours of
NEWS OF E NGLAND
There is a great deal more on the same lines which
could be quoted. Is it true? If not, why is it not contra-
dicted ? How can we stand still, and make no reply to
Mr. Mollison's main assertion that 'if you could talk
with pilots of all nations, hear them discuss the adven-
tures, conditions and grievances, you would be alarmed
But would you be alarmed and ashamed ?
Apparently not, if you are of the same mentality as
the average member of Parliament who listened to the
aforesaid speech in which the young airman M.P. told
that story about the birdcage.
It ought to have made such a sensation that immedi-
ate action would have been taken. It didn't. There is
going to be a 'government inquiry'. That is all.
In the meantime, while the taxpayer provides Im-
perial Airways with a large subsidy the proportion of
air passengers which this line carries from Croydon has
fallen from 80 per cent in 1933, to 50 per cent in 1937,
because, in the unchallenged words of our friend Mr.
Perkins, 'the public is beginning to find out the truth'.
We may not care very much, as taxpayers. We have
to pay so much money for so many national stupidities,
that a few pounds here or there make no difference.
But we happen to be members of a very great Empire,
which, in spite of all its faults, has still a greater chance
of spreading world civilization than any other commun-
ity of peoples. And it is somewhat galling to see the very
existence of that Empire threatened because its ancient
UP IN THE CLOUDS
rulers have omitted, for the last ten years, to tear the
leaves off their calendars.
Of course, the aeroplane has come too soon. The skies
that might have been made beautiful, as by the wings
of doves, have been blackened, as by the wings of vul-
tures. Man learned to soar to heaven with his body,
but he left his mind in the mud.
All the same, I would rather see England take to the
skies than any other nation. We have (or we used to
have) a breadth of vision that might have made them
a happier place than they are to-day.
Enough of these lamentations, which are depressing
me as much as they are depressing you. Let us have a
breath of fresh air, and pay a visit to some of the young
airmen who, in spite of every obstruction, are still
sufficiently excited about life, even in England, to
spread their wings and fly.
Which is the cue for the introduction of Tony. A
brilliant young pilot, and a typical representative of the
new generation of the air.
There are only 5572 civilian pilots in England, as
compared with Germany's 29,342.
In spite of this, the enthusiasm of these young people
is intense. They want to make England c air-conscious*.
Perhaps, one day, they may succeed.
We are driving down to Brooklands with Tony. On
the way we stop for petrol. As we are about to move on,
a map falls from Tony's pocket.
'What is that ?'
NEWS OF ENGLAND
'An air-map of England/
'Can I see it?'
I looked down at this, the first air-map that I had ever
It was like peering into a new world. It was scarred
all over with straight lines, which chronicled Tony's
various trips. Straight lines, I repeat. And indeed, it is
obvious enough that they should be straight, since the
airman flies 'as the crow flies'. But the landlubber,
accustomed as he is to tracing a route in curls and
twists and detours, is startled when he sees, for the
first time, those straight, uncompromising lines on an
The map had many other fascinating symbols on it.
There were red stars, which stood for air beacons, that
flash out signals through the night. There were blue
circles, with tiny lines radiating inside them, marking
the points of the compass. There were 'Danger Areas',
most of them situated on the coast, which implied the
presence of anti-aircraft stations, and the possibility of
running foul of gunnery practice. There was a big oblong
marked in red chalk, with London in its centre, and
Tony told me that you were not allowed to go inside
that oblong in bad weather.
Looking at this map made me realize that England,
to this new generation of the air, is seen through utterly
It is not an England of landscapes, but of landmarks.
For instance, the new Queen Mary Reservoir is just
an admirable piece of engineering to most of us. To the
airman, however, it is a sign and a portent, for the great
black groin which runs down its centre happens to point
UP IN THE CLOUDS
directly to Brooklands. 'Many's the time I've thanked
God for that reservoir, 5 said Tony,
Again, round Dorking there is a very pretty valley
which, as far as I am concerned, means bluebells in
spring, pleasant little inns, and autumn crocuses in a
certain field which shall remain a secret. But to the
airman this valley is known as * Dorking Gap ', and it is,
often enough, a door to salvation, when the clouds are
low on the hills.
It was when he mentioned the Crystal Palace that
Tony, in phrases which were more symbolic than he
realized, summed up the outlook, or perhaps one should
say the downlook, of this new generation. He said :
'See that squiggle there? That's the Crystal Palace.
Well, when the old thing was burned down, we all felt
sick as hell. You see, the towers of the Crystal Palace
pointed in a direct line to Croydon. Many's the time
I've been thankful to catch a sight of 'em. And then
the damned thing caught fire. Still, it's not as bad as
it might be. There are still some stumps left.*
The passing of a whole generation is implicit in those
sentences. Tony was raised (if I may say so without
offence) in a chromium-plated cradle. To him the
Crystal Palace is as much a part of ancient history, as
much a 'monument' as, let us say, the Acropolis. It
would never enter his head that there are, still living,
men and women who were born years before that
fabulous greenhouse first glittered to the Victorian sun.
It would seem to him as odd as if you introduced him
to the little princes who were strangled in the Tower,
Little did the great Queen think that one day those
towers, which had so bravely commemorated her
Albert's genius, would serve as signals to a swift tribe of
NEWS OF ENGLAND
young Englishmen, soaring far above them, far, far
above, a part of the heavens in which she so bravely
We arrived at Brooklands. It was a dull, grey day,
with occasional showers of rain. Only a few privately
owned planes were chugging about the aerodrome. It
was good to get into the warmth of the air-club.
As soon as I entered this club (which is typical of the
clubs which are common in every country but England),
the sense of stepping into a new world was accen-
The rooms seemed to be designed to give the effect of
floating in space. This was not due to any eccentricity in
the scheme of decoration. It was rather a reflection of
the mentality of the men who designed them. For in-
stance, in an ordinary room, you never see the ceiling
girders. They are plastered over, or camouflaged in
Here they are left naked, and painted with alum-
inium. The effect is exhilarating.
In the hall there were show-cases which indicated the
immense industrial and social changes which will follow
in the wake of the air-age. There were, for instance, the
faint, feeble beginnings of air-fashions for women. Silks
with a pattern of gay scarlet wings. Trim leather jackets,
'which will enable you to face the clouds with true chic*.
(It is rather awful to realize that even in the clouds we
shall be unable to escape from the repellent phraseology
of the fashion advertiser.) There were little chromium-
plated cigarette-lighters, shaped like aeroplanes. And of
UP IN THE C LOUDS
course, quantities of ties, badges, flags and symbols.
There were, needless to say, brightly coloured pamph-
lets advertising aeroplanes in flight. Inside the aero-
planes were young men with perfectly creased trousers,
lolling back and talking to houris by their side. The
houris wore expressions of unusual placidity. They gazed
at mountain crags far below with the sort of mild in-
terest that a young lady of the 'nineties would have
reserved for the traffic in Kensington High Street.
The literature accompanying these idyllic pictures
was so persuasive that even a very old lady, chancing
to read it, might well have sold her bath-chair, and
ordered a two-seater aeroplane as a more suitable means
of progress up and down the promenade at Brighton.
Only one phrase puzzled me. At normal speedy with the
windows closed, the noise is no more worrying than an
autumn breeze in the woodland', wrote the advertiser.
No more worrying? Why is an autumn breeze, in or
out of the woodland, 'worrying* at all? The only occa-
sion I can imagine being * worried 5 by it would be if it
suddenly began to blow down a lot of trees on one's
head, in which case, presumably, it would be a cyclone,
rather than a breeze. And why an autumn breeze? And
why . . . but we must not probe too deeply into the
minds of advertisers.
Most significant of all is the language of the coming
age. A small dictionary could already be compiled of the
new phrases you hear in these clubs. They are prophetic
of a new vision of life. They drift casually into the air,
like the sweet, chaotic runs and roulades of a great
orchestra, before the overture begins.
'The clouds were on the deck/
NEWS OF ENGLAND
'If it hadn't been for that, we should have hit the
The deck ? What is the deck ? you ask yourself. And
then you realize that the deck is Mother Earth. And
to these boys, Mother Earth is just a spring-board from
which they dive . . . into life.
Tve been hedge-hopping all the morning/ observed
a youth by my side.
He did not mean that he had been running in a paper-
chase, or following any sort of hunt. He meant that the
clouds were low, and he had been . . . well, hedge-
You soon begin to understand this language without
any further explanation. Thus when another young man
informed me that he had been 'sitting on the railway
line for nearly three hours', I did not conclude, as I
should normally have concluded, that he had been
endeavouring to commit suicide. I knew that he meant
that visibility was so bad that he had been forced to
follow the railway through the treacherous hills.
You may skip the next two pages, which are inserted
by the way of a little light relief. It is merely an account
of my first flying lesson. Its only value may be to remind
a few young Englishmen that the air exists.
If I can fly, anybody can fly. I have no sense of direc-
tion and I cannot stop my mind from wandering. All the
same ... I fly.
I do not really wish to fly. It is cold and wet and
windy, and I have eaten duck for lunch. But somehow
UP IN THE CLOUDS
I find myself putting on a leather coat, goggles, and
helmet, and soaring into the air with an instructor.
Suddenly he says, 'Now, you take control'.
I take control. With diffidence, I may say. I push the
joy-stick forward, very gingerly.
'Go on. YouVe got to be firm with it. Not heavy-
handed, but firm/
I am firm. So firm, that we start to do a nose-dive.
An idiot grin comes on my face. This is great. Terrific.
This is power, life, energy with a capital E.
'Back again . . . and quickly/
Panic. I pull it back. As we swoop up again I see a
church tower, far below. I think of various epitaphs
which would look agreeable on my gravestone.
'He soared/ That would be effective.
Very poignant. Untrue. But very, very poignant. Or
. . . 'He tried to soar'? Perhaps that would be better?
Or even . . .
'Keep her straight with the rudder*, says the in-
I try. Without effect. If only the plane would stop
for a minute! That is the first thing one finds about
flying. You can't stop. It seems absurdly obvious, but
it is not till you are in the air that you realize the strain
of never being able to pause, even for half a second.
One shoots forward and still forward, like an eternal
A very erratic arrow, too, as far as I am concerned.
For I cannot keep the wretched thing straight. I shout
to the instructor:
'How do I keep her straight?'
'It's rather difficult, with all this cloud', he informs
me, in a bored voice.
NEWS OF E NGLAND
I could have told him that myself.
'There's no visible horizon, you see/ he adds.
Of that, also, I am aware.
'Perhaps the best thing/ he continues, 'would be to
take that big bank of cloud over there as a horizon,
and steer by that.'
Now, I ask you. Bouncing about in a cardboard box,
like an intoxicated dragonfly, and being told to pin
one's faith to a cloud.
All this, needless to say, will sound very crude and
excitable to those boys and girls to whom flying is the
normal method of progress. But perhaps it may remind
them of their own early struggles, so that they need not
be too contemptuous of me.
It is enough to say that eventually we landed, I spent
the next few days studying catalogues of aeroplanes,
and wondering if I should ever manage to look as cool
and collected as those young men with the houris.
And then something happened which put the whole
thing out of my head.
The Goddess of Chance
LHE THING that happened was that I won five pounds
in a football pool.
It does not sound like the sort of event that alters a
man's life, particularly as I had nothing to do with
filling in the coupons. It would be easier for me to com-
pose a family tree of the Guelphs and the Ghibeilines
than to make any sense out of those little squares of
pathetic prophecy into which so many millions pour
their intellectual energies week by week.
It merely happened that I had lent a little money to
an unemployed man. He invested it, without my knowl-
edge, in a football pool, won fifty pounds, returned me
my five, and promptly went to the dogs.
It was this trivial event which caused me to interest
myself in the gambling situation in this country. What
I learned astonished me. I discovered an entirely new
I learnt of the existence of an immense class of persons
living solely for the propagation of gambling.
N E WS OF E NGL AND
I learnt that the annual betting turnover from which
these persons extracted their profits amounted to the
almost unbelievable sum of 400,000,000 a year ... a
sum equivalent to nearly half of the national budget.
I learnt that in this profession sport was merely an
adjunct of gambling. I had previously imagined that
gambling, at least in this country, was an adjunct of
I learnt of such great vested interests playing so
shamelessly on national credulity (a credulity which it
was difficult to associate with an even half-educated
people), that I decided to write a book about it. It is
lucky for you that I gave up the attempt, for it would
certainly have been a bore. But one thing leads to
another. I was like a doctor who, on examining a patient
for a minor complaint, discovers that this complaint is
the symptom of a deep-seated disease. And I came to
the conclusion that this disease of gambling was sympto-
matic of a widespread national decadence.
That is why the winning of my five pounds was im-
portant to me, if not to you.
It was while I was walking through one of the dirtiest
slums of Glasgow, a few days after the aforesaid winning
of five pounds, that I first began to be disturbed. For as
I peered into the grimy little shops, I was struck by the
number of charms, mascots, and various objects of in-
fantile superstition which jostled each other in the
windows. It was not merely a question of an occasional
lucky charm in a pawnbroker's window* There were
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
dozens of shops, almost entirely given up to these
There were little nickel-plated swastikas, at three-
pence, guaranteed to bring you luck. There were bowls
of white heather, at least it was called white, though
the smuts of Glasgow had turned it to a dirty grey.
There were, of course, shamrocks galore, for Glasgow
has a large Irish population. There were jet ornaments,
such as one is offered in Port Said, made in the shape of
a hand to ward off the evil eye. There were brooches
containing ( lucky hairs*, whatever they may be, quan-
tities of 'genuine rolled gold* horse-shoes with injunc-
tions on each card to wear it the right way up 'or your
luck will run out '. There were even bottles of perfume,
which, according to the legend on the box, 'will bring
your loved one back to you*.
I rubbed my eyes. Was it possible that this was 1937,
and that I was walking down a street of the second
greatest city in the world's greatest Empire? I happened
to have brought a set of The Decline and Fall with me
to Glasgow . . . (Gibbon is the ideal bedside book) . . .
and when I returned to the hotel I turned up the cele-
brated passage in which he refers to the growth of every
form of superstition in the reign of Valentinian.
'The nations and sects of the Roman world admitted,
with equal credulity and similar abhorrence, the reality
of that infernal art which was able to control the eternal
order of the planets and the voluntary operations of the
human mind. They dreaded the mysterious power of
spells and incantations, of potent herbs and execrable
rites, which could extinguish or recall life, inflame the
passions of the soul, blast the works of creation, and
extort from the reluctant daemons the secrets of futur-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
ity. They believed, with the wildest inconsistency, that
this preternatural dominion of the air, of earth, and of
hell was exercised, from the vilest motives of malice
or gain, by some wrinkled hags and itinerant sorcerers,
who passed their obscure lives in penury and contempt.
The arts of magic were equally condemned by the public
opinion and by the laws of Rome, but, as they tended
to gratify the most imperious passions of the heart of
man, they were continually proscribed and continually
Those words sounded strangely familiar, and un-
pleasantly applicable to the British Empire of 1937.
I began to look about me. I saw, for instance, the
alarmingly swift growth of the pseudo-science of astrol-
ogy, with its anti-social doctrine that our fate is written,
not by our own strong hands, but by the pale pattern
of the stars. I saw great newspapers, claiming to direct
the policies of an intelligent people, devoting pages of
gibberish to the popularization of these superstitions.
Walking down the streets of London I saw buses charg-
ing along, bearing placards which screamed the question
'What is to-day's ruling number? Buy the Daily Blank,
I asked myself 'What right has a people so riddled
with superstition, eager to invest such vast sums in
such pettiness, to criticize other countries for the follies
of Fascism or the brutalities of Communism ? * It may
be true that Fascism and the orthodox church have not
always seen eye to eye, and it may be true that an anti-
religious museum is the proudest monument of modern
Moscow. But even the cult of Wotan, even the cold
negativism of the Soviets, has a certain dignity com-
pared with the shrill chorus of commercial astrologers,
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
inking themselves in Fleet Street, pouring out their
puerilities because it is 'good for circulation'.
In the hope that you may possibly be persuaded to
share these sentiments, we will now examine some
It is obviously impossible to give an absolutely accu-
rate estimate of the national expenditure on gambling,
in all its various forms, for there is no adequate machin-
ery with which to check the statistics. However, even
if we use only the most conservative authorities, we
shall find that the figures are staggering.
We have already seen that the total national expendi-
ture on gambling is approximately 400,000,000 a year.
As sober and reputable an authority as The Economist
estimated some two years ago that the sum was be-
tween 350,000,000 and 400,000,000.*- However, com-
petent experts to whom I quoted these figures have
suggested that they are far too small, for two reasons.
Firstly, because they are based on the statistics avail-
able for 1935, and because the craze for every sort of
gambling has spread like wildfire in the last two years.
Secondly because they take no account of a great deal
of miscellaneous gambling, of which there can never
be any record, varying from 'private lotteries' (as
defined in and legalized by the 1934 Act), which include
many forms of sweeps, to gambling on a humble game
Still 400,000,000 per year, even if it does not repre-
l Tht Economist, February 29th and March 7th, 1936.
NEWS OF E NGLAND
sent the true state of affairs, is a large enough figure to
make one think. It is, for instance, almost exactly
equivalent to the combined local expenditure, in
England and Wales, on
. . . and a few other things.
The greatest individual item of this expenditure is
provided by horse-racing, which in 1929 has a yearly
turnover of 230,000,000.* This figure, presumably, has
greatly increased to-day. In 1933 the Royal Commission
*First Annual Report of race-course betting control board,
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
on Lotteries and Betting reported that it was ' signifi-
cant that gambling has increased at a time of economic
and industrial depression'. 1933 was the lowest year of
the last slump. Since then we have enjoyed , . . with
certain hectic reverses . . . conditions which are, by
It is the rapidity of the increase which is so disturbing.
Here are a few facts which illustrate that increase:
1. There are more people, in modern England, de-
voted professionally to the propagation of gambling
than are engaged professionally in the propagation of
2. 14,000 bookmakers received licences from the
State during the reign of the recent Betting Duty.
At least as large a number of unlicensed bookmakers
are operating. Their pimps, clerks, 'tic-tac' men and
such-like swell the great army of propagandists to
3. In 1934 the yearly turnover on Football Betting
was 8,000,000. In 1936, it had risen to 20,000,000.
A year later it was 30,000,000. A similar increase
may be seen in every department of gambling, from
greyhound-racing to automatic gambling machines.
What is the explanation of these bewildering figures?
Have we all suddenly gone mad ? Been bitten by some
fever engendered by world unrest? Do we feel that life
is so uncertain, security so elusive, that honest en-
deavour is useless and that we might as well have a
fling before the deluge ?
NEWS OF E NGLAND
That may be the mentality behind the craze. But it is
a little too vague for my liking. I prefer something more
objective. I obtain it in a quotation from a letter written
to me by the secretary of the National Anti-Gambling
League, Mr. John Gulland, to whose exhaustive re-
searches (which I have independently verified) I am
indebted for some of the statistics in this chapter.
Mr. Gulland states:
'The problem to-day is not that of petty gambling
between man and man, or even large-scale gambling
among rich individuals. The problem to-day is the
emergence of gambling as a trade, and the systematic
exploitation of a human weakness by a professional
It is very important to realize this fact. It is only too
easy to attribute the sensational increase to various
vague 'psychological' reasons. To the monotony of
work in this mechanized age, for example, to the
'escape complex* engendered by a life in dreary sur-
roundings, limited in its possibilities by a small fixed
These may be contributory causes, but they have
always been contributing causes. There is nothing new
in them, nothing to account for the staggering increase
of these latter years* Life has always been pretty dull
and monotonous for the majority of workers, not only
in England but in every industrial country. To-day,
indeed, it has far more distractions than it ever had
before. So we cannot put down the gambling fever to
No* It is the fact that the whole thing has suddenly
become a trade that is so significant. This trade has
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
reached such proportions that it is doubtful whether
it could now be eliminated without a social revolution.
For instance, according to the evidence given on behalf
of the Greyhound Racing Club to the Royal Commission
on Lotteries, the attendance at greyhound-racing tracks
has grown from 5 millions in 1927 to 18 millions in 1932,
and is conservatively estimated at 25 millions in 1937.
But you will be growing dizzy with statistics. Let us
have a moment's respite from them, and study two of
the most popular forms of gambling now prevalent in
this country . . . the dogs, and the football pools.
There are over two hundred dog-racing tracks in
Great Britain, and a conservative estimate of the
amount of money which is literally and metaphorically
going to the dogs every year, from this item alone, is
Of course the shareholders, the promoters, and all
those who make money out of this human weakness,
would accept the literal interpretation but would
strenuously deny the metaphorical After all, if you get
thirty per cent on your money (the amount of the
dividend paid by the Greyhound Racing Association
Trust Ltd. in 1936) it does not much matter if you are,
or are not, improving the morale of your countrymen.
All the same, I should not personally like to have any
dividends, however profitable, from such an under-
taking, any more than I should care to receive blood
money from the armament makers. For of all the organ-
NEWS OF E NGLAND
ized fatuities which have yet been devised to satisfy
the cravings of a leaderless democracy, dog-racing is
the supreme example.
Come with me to one of the most renowned tracks of
London, and see this sport with unprejudiced eyes.
The stadium holds, at a moderate estimate, thirty
thousand people. It is lit by lamps whose beams radiate
into the foggy night, so that from a distance they look
like pale, ghostly ballerinas, with milk-white skirts,
poised before a vast audience. It is bitterly cold. There
is no gaiety. It is all strangely silent.
Suddenly there is a roar. You stare out and you see a
white streak flash round the course, followed by six
other white streaks. And before you realize it, the race
How long does each race take? Thirty seconds? It
doesn't seem as long as that, but even assuming that it
takes a minute, it is indeed a brief reward for a quarter
of an hour's wait, on a night like this. If I went to a
play and found that each of the three acts lasted four
minutes and each of the intervals lasted one hour (which
is in exactly the same proportion), I should demand my
money back. But such an attitude would be regarded
as eccentric by the devotees of the dogs.
Turn round, and scan the faces of England's youth,
lit by the lamplight. They look doped. Hunched shoul-
ders, caps over forehead, a half-burnt cigarette drooping
from lips which occasionally part and reveal blackened
teeth. Hands deep in pockets which still contain a few
coppers left over from last week's dole. It is not an
It is unfortunate to possess the inclinations of an
artist, however inferior an artist, combined with the
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
urge of the social reformer, however feeble and spas-
modic the urge. It spoils a great deal of one's fun. It
prevents me, for instance, from seeing this vast arena
as an aesthetic whole, from playing with the idea of the
ideal artist who might be commissioned to paint it.
Sickert might have taken a corner of it, and lit it with
the flare of his genius, stringing a circle of lights against
the grey tent of the sky and giving a touch of the
baroque to the strangely decorated stands of the book-
makers. Picasso would have done something exciting.
Goya, obviously, would have found inspiration. Perhaps
Frith would have been best of all, for Frith would have
painted, as he always painted, not only a picture but a
social document. And since it is this aspect which con-
cerns us, we must stifle our aesthetic inclinations and
return to our moutons, or rather to our chiens. The
football pools are waiting for our inspection.
No form of gambling in this country, or indeed in any
other country, has made such rapid strides as the form
which is known as the Football Pool. Ten years ago it
did not exist. To-day the volume of correspondence it
entails is so immense that it is worth 140,000 a week
to the Post Office. Even two and a half years ago, the
pool letters posted in seven large cities (excluding
London) amounted to an average of 5 ? 37i>392 each
These are the official figures given by the Postmaster-
General at the end of 1935. Since pool betting has nearly
doubled in the last two years, since London was ex-
NEWS OF E NGLAND
eluded, and since, in any case, these figures were based
only on special deliveries, it is safe to suggest that well
over 30,000,000 letters per week are now posted in
Britain, all addressed to the Goddess of Chance. This
figure, it will be observed, roughly corresponds with the
estimate of 140,000 a week, which is what the pools
are worth to the Post Office, basing the calculation on
three halfpence per letter.
Statistics can be boring, but when they are intimately
connected with a very grave social problem, and when
they attain to such astronomical proportions, it is our
duty to bore ourselves with them. In any case, I cannot
imagine that any man who takes any interest in what
his countrymen are doing or thinking can be * bored'
by such statistics as those.
Thirty million letters a week to the Goddess of Chance.
Out of a population of forty-four millions.
It is a social phenomenon which we cannot ignore.
Those of us who have been to the distressed areas and
have seen, as I have seen, crowds of men hurrying from
the labour exchanges, to spend the first two shillings of
their weekly dole on a postal order for a football coupon,
are not likely to forget a sight so unhappy and so
sombre. Two shillings represents a high percentage of
the total sum available for food, rent, and clothing. ,
And yet, according to the chairman of the largest firm of
pool promoters in the country, it is the average bet of
the poor man. Is it any wonder that in all the chief
industrial areas, retail traders, especially in the clothing
line, are complaining of the huge sums of money that
are being diverted from clothing clubs into the Pools?
Is it any wonder that the Cinematograph Exhibition
Association have stressed the urgency of the problem,
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
which is causing a serious decline in the attendance at
the picture houses?
Is it any wonder, to turn from the grave to the ridicu-
lous, that hostesses with large country houses say that
they can't get their servants to do their work properly,
because all they think of is 'the pools'?
I don't care in the least about the rich woman's serv-
ants, but I do care about the poor woman's clothing
clubs. Two shillings a week goes a long way towards
buying a child a new dress or a new pair of shoes. No
doubt many of the dupes who spend their pitiful in-
comes on the pools are thinking of their children's wel-
fare, dreaming of some chance that may set them far
above the border line of poverty for ever. If they only
knew the immensity of the odds against them! If they
only knew that on a strict mathematical basis the
chance of forecasting correctly in 20 matches is one in
many millions, and in 15 matches one in many hundred
But how can they know? In the newspapers they see
glittering advertisements in which families are trans-
ported from poverty to luxury merely by buying some-
body's ' system*. It is obviously in the interests of the
authors of these ( systems' to stress the chances of
success and to minimize the chances of failure. And so,
on the purchase of the ( system' goes another two shil-
lings from the family budget, sometimes indeed as
much as twelve shillings, for that is the price of a book
on the 'science 7 of pool betting which is now being
advertised in England.
And every time that a win is recorded, in some
squalid city, all the arts of publicity are employed to
drag in more victims. The winner is photographed, inter-
N E WS OF ENGLAND
viewed, dined and feted. He is handed his cheque by a
popular film star in a brilliantly lit auditorium. The
illusion is spread, among the local inhabitants, that this
is the one chance of success, the one way to happiness.
It would be only too easy to multiply the examples
which may be found, in every town and village of
England of the craze for gambling, which Maeterlinck
once described as the 'imaginary, squalid, mechanical,
unlovely adventure of those who have never been able
to encounter or create the real, necessary and salutary
adventure of life '.
In other words the only adventure left in a country
without a hero. We have not, for instance, noted the
startling growth of the various forms of gambling ma-
chines, which seem to defeat every attempt of the
authorities to declare them illegal. They have tilled the
spirit of the old England fair, they are the main purpose
of many 'social clubs', and in the case of the 'pin-
tables* they make so much money that two shops in
London where these pin-tables are now operating are
rented at 120 and 160 a week! One might indeed
compare their owners to Monsieur Blanc, who founded
the 'Societe Anonyme des Bains de Mer' at Monte
Carlo. They used to say of him 'C'est encore rouge qui
perd, \ et , encore noir, mais c'est toujours Blanc qui
But presumably enough has been said to indicate the
dimensions of the problem. If I have appeared in this
chapter to speak with undue emphasis it may be due
THE GODDESS OF CHANCE
to the fact that I am what is known as a 'born gambler'.
In three days I lost the savings of ten years' arduous
work, gambling on Wall Street. Years ago I tramped
over the long road that leads from Phaleron to Athens,
at dawn, having been wiped out in a dirty little casino
by the harbour. At any bar in Europe the sound of poker
dice, the slither of the backgammon counters, has an
irresistible appeal to me. I beg your pardon. Irresistible
may have been the right word once. It is so no longer,
because I have been strong enough to resist it.
But I know how hard it is to suppress this habit, even
if one has enough education to realize the odds against
one, enough discipline to apply oneself to better things,
and enough money to be able to dispense with windfalls.
Millions of my countrymen have neither this education,
this discipline nor this prosperity. And it is in their
concern, and not in their contempt, that I have written.
The Sober Truth
LTHOUGH I have respect for the motives of those
who write religious tracts I should be the last to deny
that this form of literature is frequently funny.
For instance, the first item in my scrap-book (com-
posed of oddments which at various times have struck
me as amusing), is a tract on drink. It was thrust upon
me in an American pullman car by a coloured porter
who smelt strongly of rye whisky. It tells the story of a
nasty little boy who was run over by a motor car while
he was endeavouring to save the life of an equally nasty
little girl. The little boy was, happy to relate, mortally
wounded. Just as he was about to pass away, a well-
meaning (but depraved) stranger ran up with a flask of
brandy, and put it to the boy's lips. With a noble gesture
the little monster thrust it aside, gazed at the stranger
with a cold blue eye, and said, 'What? Would you ask
me, who am about to go into the abode of my Maker,
to enter His presence with brandy in my stomach?*
Whereupon he expired.
The net result of that tract upon me was to cause me
THE SOBER TRUTH
to ring the bell, to observe with unexpected affection the
odoriferous porter, and to order a Manhattan.
I hope that the present chapter will not have a similar
effect upon the reader. Reading portions of it which are
already written, I have a suspicion that some of it may
sound like that tract, I have made it as objective as
possible, at the risk of making you feel that you have
had a surfeit of statistics.
It would have been pleasanter to have been excused
from the task of writing the chapter altogether. Pleas-
anter, and more popular too, for one of the proudest
boasts of the modern Englishman is that he grows
yearly soberer and soberer. If I have once seen the
headline ' Sober England', (accompanied by stories
about business men who never drink anything but milk
at luncheon), I have seen it fifty times.
That the legend of ' Sober England 5 is illusory will be
regrettably obvious from the statistics in the present
chapter. But since you have had enough figures for the
present, we will begin with a picture.
It was like one of the coarsest cartoons that Rowland-
son ever drew of an orgy in an eighteenth century
tavern. But Rowlandson's cartoons, even when their
subjects were nauseating, at least had a quality of
beauty. Here all was hideousness.
A harsh flood-light shot its beams on to the fake oak
and thatch of the neo-Tudor public house. Its glare
revealed the vulgarity of the design, the cheapness of
the paint, the pretentiousness of the timber.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
But it revealed a good deal more than that
It revealed a crowd of hundreds of people, staggering,
shouting, and in some cases, being sick. It revealed
couples sprawling in charabancs, waving bottles over
their heads. Boys and girls whirling round in a frenzy.
Old women, sitting on the edges of cars, having, as we
say, 'passed out*.
' Better drive carefully/ said my companion.
We drove on. A mile or so up the road, there was a
repetition of the same scene. But this time it had a
variation. The flood-light revealed, not only the same
drunken mob, the same orgy of dancing and screaming
... it also revealed a car smashed to atoms, and some-
thing that had once been a man, stretched out on the
bank, covered over with a tarpaulin. The police were
finding it difficult to keep back the crowd.
'That won't be the last, either, 5 said my companion.
We drove on. We met three more accidents. All out-
side the same sort of pub, floodlit in the same way,
surrounded by the same sort of mob.
No ... it was not the night of the Coronation. It was
not Armistice Day, nor boat-race night, nor any anniver-
sary. It was just a nice summer evening. And that was
how some thousands of the inhabitants of the capital
of the world's greatest empire chose to spend it.
If I have painted this picture in colours which are
unduly dark, the reason must be that only the week
before witnessing this scene, I had returned from Ger-
many. And in the thousands of miles which I travelled
THE SOBER TRUTH
throughout that country the only drunken people I
observed were two English society women at a cocktail
bar in Berlin.
The sobriety of Germany may be due to the poverty
of the people, though I prefer to think that it is due
to the almost religious respect with which the majority
of young Germans now regard the human body. What-
ever the reason, the contrast that Germany presents
with other countries is startling. Cross the frontier into
Belgium and before you have travelled half an hour over
the Belgian roads, you will have pulled up with a scream
of brakes, to avoid some staggering figure. Cross the
frontier into Poland and you will have to contend, not
only with drunks, but with half-wits. That at least was
my experience. Poland seems to possess the largest
proportion of village idiots of any country in Europe.
They emerge suddenly from hedges, and stand gibbering
in the middle of the road, looking round for stones to
throw at the windscreen.
However, this is not the place to record fragmentary
impressions of travel in Europe. The only reason that
I mentioned Germany was in order to be excused in case
I had painted a picture which was prejudiced and
Is England drinking more ?
It ought to be an easy question to answer, in view of
the abundance of available statistics. But it is not at all
Statistics can be twisted to almost any shape that
suits the fancy of the statistician. On the subject of
drink they can be twisted out of shape altogether.
The abolitionist can show you figures that make your
hair stand on end, figures which leave you with the
NEWS OF ENGLAND
conviction that we are more drunken to-day than at
any period in the past. The brewer can take the same
figures and make them prove that we grow soberer
every day, and that if things go on like this, he doesn't
know what he'll have to do for a living. The moderate
can contradict both sides, and leave you with such a
general feeling of bewilderment that you want a strong
whisky and soda in order to clear your addled brain.
At first sight the figures show a marked advance in
the direction of sobriety. According to the latest Licens-
ing Statistics published by the Home Office, 188,877
persons were convicted for drunkenness in 1913, which
adds up to the appalling percentage of over 50 persons
out of every 10,000 inhabitants.
In 1936 this figure had shrunk to a mere 44,525 . . .
a proportion per 10,000 of under II.
In other words, the convictions for drunkenness had
shrunk, last year, to little more than a fifth of the pre-
In these circumstances it would seem, to many people,
that we should be justified in congratulating ourselves,
sitting back, and leaving well alone.
I do not agree with these people, and again I base my
disagreement on statistics. There is something ominous
about the little table which follows:
Year Convictions for Proportion per 10,000
Drunkenness of population
1932 30,146 7.50
1933 36,285 8.99
1934 39.748 9-8^
1935 42,159 10.37
1936 44,525 10.90
THE SOBER TRUTH
I am informed on the highest authority that the
statistics for 1937, which are not yet available, will show
yet another considerable increase.
Now if these figures were figures of prosperity, of ris-
ing profits or increasing employment, they would be
trumpeted through the land as a tribute to our national
sanity. But as they are figures of disaster, they are
usually kept pretty dark. If you regard the word
'disaster' as too strong, it can only be assumed that
you are one of those lucky ones who have not seen,
with their own eyes, the desolation which is the lot of
any family that is haunted by the shadow of drink,
We will sum up the foregoing statistics in one sen-
tence. In the past six years the convictions for drunkenness,
per 10,000 of the population, have increased by 41.58 per
Let us now see if we can find out why.
The fatigued reader will now, no doubt, resign himself
to an onslaught upon the brewers.
There is no reason for him to do so. Any man who
has a knowledge of the English climate, and the English
temperament, will realize that England would probably
be worse off without beer than with it.
It is possible that more men have been killed through
eating too much bread than through drinking too much
beer. It is certain that a mild attack of indigestion, from
the aforesaid bread, is as fatiguing to the constitution
and as fraying to the temper, as a mild attack of in-
toxication from the aforesaid beer.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
It is true that one might wish the brewers to insult
our intelligence somewhat less flagrantly by their adver-
tisements. If they said, * A reasonable amount of beer is
good for your body and certainly won't hurt your soul '
. . . and left it at that . . . there would be no occasion for
complaint. It is when they publish pictures of air-pilots,
suggesting that a constant diet of beer is the only way
to steer a straight course in the air, that one revolts.
When, for example, a well-known brewer like Sir Edgar
Sanders tells his association that they should advertise
testimonials from footballers, cricketers, prize fighters,
and so on, saying, 'Our strength is derived from beer 5 ,
the result is to make the intelligent man want to go
off and sign the pledge, out of sheer irritation. However,
since the briefest study of the advertisement columns
of any newspaper convinces you that the intelligent
man must be in a startling minority, perhaps we are
asking too much of the brewers.
In any case, it is not beer which is filling the police
courts and piling up the criminal statistics. It is some-
thing new in the history of British drink. It is as new
as the black tea habit which, at the moment, is proving
so great a menace to the health of the Egyptian nation.
The Egyptians flew to black tea because of the effi-
ciency with which Russell Pasha stopped their supplies
of hashish. For generations they had drugged them-
selves. Suddenly, they could drug themselves no longer.
Their tortured bodies cried out for some substitute, and
they found it in black tea. This they brew for days on
end, occasionally adding to it the juice of the date-palm.
When they finally drink it, the effect upon the mind is
at once narcotic and aphrodisiac- The effect upon the
body, needless to say, is destructive. Death comes to the
THE SOBER TRUTH
black tea drinker with even greater speed and agony
than to the hashish addict.
Nothing so exotic, admittedly, is to be encountered in
the English scene. But in the last ten years there have
appeared on the market a number of cheap concoctions
which are in the highest degree pernicious, as perhaps
the following facts may convince.
One of the most popular of these is a stuff called
'British Wine'. There are of course many sorts of
' British Wine'. Most of them come from South Africa
or Australia. Some of them are admirable ... I have
drunk South African hock which compared favourably
with the average Niersteiner, and there are some ex-
cellent Australian * burgundies*. But that is not the
sort of wine which is winning favour, to an alarming
degree, in hundreds of English public houses.
Its alcoholic content may be judged from the simple
comparison that a shilling spent on Scotch whisky buys
1.48 fluid ounces of proof spirit, whereas the same sum
spent on * British Wine' buys nearly 5 ounces. Nor is it
merely a matter of mathematics, for the physical dam-
age done by these wines is out of all proportion to the
amount of proof spirit consumed. In case I am accused
of speaking ' without the book', the reader may refer
to a recent investigation carried out by the Manchester
Licensing Magistrates. In this investigation they did
not attempt to deny that England was faced with tf a
completely new problem of drunkenness '. This problem
first became acute last Christmas, when many of the hos-
pitals of Manchester and its district were crowded with
alcoholics suffering from the effects of ' British Wine'.
'According to the report of the investigation it was
the impression of the hospital doctors that wine ac-
NEWS OF E NGLAND
counted for two-thirds of the drunken patients treated
in hospitals, nearly half of whom were women '.
Of course, the root of the problem is price. If you can
get two and a half times as drunk on this wine as you
can get on whisky, you will naturally choose the wine,
if you wish to get drunk. Most people who go into
public houses, of course, don't wish to get drunk at all.
The fact remains that they do. And they will continue
to do so, in increasing quantities, as long as this wine
This is only the beginning of the picture. Doctors in
the East End of London have reported that a rapid
increase in the rate of maternal mortality is to be ex-
pected unless something can be done to check the con-
sumption of a drink which, down the Commercial Road
and in the Pennyfields district, is known as 'smoke '.
This was very popular in America during the days of
prohibition. It is really crude alcohol to which a little
flavouring has been added. The English woman gener-
ally uses peppermint.
Eau-de-Cologne is another drink which is growing in
favour. The sixpenny stores sell large bottles of eau-de-
Cologne for quite legitimate purposes. They have no
check on the use to which it is put.
Higher up in the social scale, i.e. among the lower
middle classes, synthetic cocktails are having a success
which surprises even their manufacturers. They bear no
relation to a legitimate cocktail (if such an expression
is not a contradiction in terms). They are made from
the cheapest possible British wines, to which crude
alcohol has been added, and only a liberal addition of
synthetic fruit juice, or some other flavour, makes them
drinkable at all.
THE SOBER TRUTH
In this connection I might quote a letter which was
recently sent to me by one of the most distinguished
dieticians in the country.
'Some time ago/ he writes, 'the British Medical
Association, disturbed by the great traffic in worthless
patent medicines, published a book called Secret
Remedies. It exposed the fact that many of the medicines
most in vogue among the British public at the time
(some of them are still flourishing to-day), were com-
posed of cheap, useless and sometimes dangerous in-
gredients. For example, one popular obesity cure, which
sold at half a crown, and had netted its proprietors
many thousands of pounds, was composed of water,
extract of lemon and a minute quantity of bicarbonate
'It is high time that the Medical Association pub-
lished a similar exposure of the "cocktails" which are
flooding the British market to-day. If their consumers
knew their composition and realized that they were,
quite literally, impregnating their systems with strong
doses of poison, they would never touch them again/
I do not wish to paint an alarmist picture. But surely
it is the duty of every public-spirited Englishman to
acquaint himself with facts such as these, particularly
since he is constantly subjected to propaganda which
aims at making him forget them.
The public-spirited Englishman, for example, ought
to know that last year, in this enlightened democracy,
nearly ten per cent of the lunatics in our asylums were
there as the direct result of chronic alcoholism. He ought
to know that for the last five years every sort of crime,
committed by drunkards, varying from common breach
of the peace to criminal assault, cruelty to children, and
NEWS OF E NGLAND
murder, has been steadily increasing. He ought to know
even such little details as the fact that only last year
nearly five hundred people in this island died of cirrhosis
of the liver. He ought to know other little details such
as 'the fact that during the whole of the present decade
there has been a steady rise in the number of crimes and
deaths directly attributable to the drinking of methyl-
ated spirits. These spirits, when mixed with cheap wine,
are comparatively potable. Their effects, according to
General Higgins of the Salvation Army, are always the
same, ' hallucinations, wild and uncontrollable out-
breaks of passion and a terrible desire to destroy *.
These things may be details, but since we are so
constantly informed, by our elders and betters, that the
preservation of our health is one of our first social
duties, and since we are surrounded by authoritarian
states in which people are not only told things, but
made to do them, these details assume a certain impor-
tance. You will not read them in the newspapers be-
cause, well you know the reason why.
The Flock and the Fathers
.T WILL HAVE BEEN EVIDENT, in the preceding chapters,
that the 'national spiritual revival' to which we are
called by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other
leaders of the Church, has not yet achieved any very
Of course the words 'spiritual revival* are somewhat
vague. They are used, with bland assurance, by clerics
who ignore the evidence of their eyes, and stare out
beyond their empty pews into the world at large, where
they find material from which they concoct misleading
generalizations. They make vague gestures towards the
radio, and when they see that the B.B.C. is broadcasting
somebody's sermon on Sunday, assume that ten million
people are listening to it when, in all probability, the
majority have hastily switched over to the jazz band
at Radio Normandie.
They see that articles on religion maintain their
popularity in the national press, that the Bible main-
tains and even increases its sale, and that there is
evidence (this is certainly true) of a widespread desire
NEWS OF ENGLAND
to believe in something. They do not realize that most
of the articles on religion bear little more resemblance
to orthodox Christianity than the articles on astrology
which are offered, as an alternative, on the following
page. They do not take the trouble to inquire how large
a proportion of the Bible output is placed in the hands
of ignorant natives, who exchange them for soap, cocoa
and cigarettes. As to the desire to believe in something,
they do not seem to understand that the very force of
this desire is the strongest evidence in proof of the
spiritual desert which it attempts so desperately to fill.
We cannot content ourselves, in this chapter, with
comforting generalizations. We must again endeavour
to be objective. Only by a constant reference to statis-
tics can we gain any true indication of the state of the
During the Easter week of 1933, 2,463,421 members
of the Church of England took Communion.
In 1934 this number had decreased by 4,308.
In 1935 there was a further decrease of 17,170, bring-
ing the total down to 2,441,943,
That is the latest news we can give you, for I am
informed by the secretary of the Archbishop's Evan-
gelistic Committee that the figures for 1936 and 1937
'are not yet available'. It seems, to the layman, very
strange indeed that at the end of 1937 the Church
authorities should still be in ignorance of the number of
its communicants early in 1936, but there it is. Although
the information is vital, although it could easily be
obtained in forty-eight hours, with a little organization,
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
it is still 'not available' after a year and a half. It does
not say very much for the Church's interpretation of the
Nor does it give one much confidence in the sugges-
tionjby the committee, that the decrease has 'probably'
ceased. Why has it probably ceased? What indications
are there that 10,000 more people, every year, are not
staying away from the Church's greatest celebration?
But though the number of communicants seems to be
steadily decreasing, the number of candidates for con-
firmation is 'very encouraging', according to the same
authority (the Archbishop's Evangelistic Committee).
It has gone up from 184,000 in 1933 to 197,000 in 1935.
(The statistics available to this lively little body again
stop abruptly at 1935.) I suppose there is some justifica-
tion for calling this 'very encouraging'. But it ceases
to be quite so encouraging when we learn that even this
high-water mark of 197,000 is over 13,000 less than the
average which prevailed during the decade up to and
including 1927. Nor does it become nearly so encourag-
ing when we reflect that in the great majority of cases,
confirmation, like vaccination, or joining the O.T.C., is
a matter in which parents acquiesce, rather than one
on which they insist. To refuse to allow a boy to be
confirmed would be thought as eccentric as to refuse to
allow him to wear the regulation school cap. It might not
cause him so much pain, but it would be an embarrass-
ment. And so it goes on.
No sooner had the proofs of the above section been
corrected than the Church of England Year Book for
NEWS OF ENGLAND
1936 burst upon an expectant world, at the beginning of
1937. I might have re-written what has gone before,
but I will let it stand. For the new figures are an even
more melancholy commentary on the true state of affairs
than those we have already examined.
They show that during 1936 the number of confirma-
tions has decreased by nearly 15,000, the number of
Sunday School scholars by nearly 83,000, and even the
number of Sunday School teachers has decreased by
It also shows that during the last four years the number
of Sunday School scholars has decreased by nearly a
quarter of a million.
There is very little ' encouragement * to be gained
from these figures. It seems that the Archbishop's
Committee was unduly optimistic. But though they
make bitter reading, I would wager that the figures for
1937, if and when they are available, will read far more
bitterly. I would wager that the statistics will show a
sensational drop in every form of Church attendance.
For 1937 was the year in which the whole of Christen-
dom was shocked by a series of ecclesiastical gaffes
which are, as far as I am aware, without parallel in
I refer, of course, to the Church's attitude towards the
It began with the Archbishop of Canterbury's famous
broadcast, with its derogatory references to the late
King's friends. This is not the place to offer any com-
ments on that broadcast. But it is the place to record
the fact that, in the eyes of other countries, it completely
destroyed the good impressions which had been previ-
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
During the whole of the unfortunate affair of the
abdication the world had watched England with sym-
pathy and respect. A situation which in some countries
might have led to bloodshed, and in others might have
provided an exhibition of considerable vulgarity, was
handled with dignity and restraint. It was felt that
however decadent England might be, in some respects,
at least, she had kept her manners.
The Archbishop's broadcast changed all that. I have
no doubt that it was delivered from a high sense of duty,
after deep thought and prayer, with a full consciousness
that it might be misinterpreted. The fact remains that
it was misinterpreted. Almost universally. In the eyes
of the vast majority of the English-speaking peoples it
looked suspiciously like kicking a man when he was
The damage abroad was as nothing to the damage at
home. Cruel jokes about the Archbishop circulated
round the London Clubs, and made their way through
society. It mattered not that these jokes were unjust
and malicious . . . they stuck in people's minds. And
just as this was being forgotten, other distinguished
churchmen, with a lack of tact that was almost as
confounding as their lack of charity, proceeded to
enter into the fray. Bishops jumped up and down in
their pulpits like Jacks-in-the-box, delivered themselves
of sentiments so vitriolic that their congregations
gasped for breath, and then subsided into the obscurity
from which they should never have emerged. Country
vicars preached angry sermons which caused so much
strife among their flocks that meetings were held on the
village green in protest. Every ecclesiastical oddity
flooded the press with letters, and each letter was a
NEWS OF ENGLAND
nail in the coffin of active Christianity. Even as I write,
the Bishop of an ancient British colony has seen fit to
march into a newspaper office and tear down from the
wall, with his own hands, two photographs of the un-
fortunate Duke. The fervour with which he performed
this impertinence would have been more suitably ex-
hibited on the steps of the Stock Exchange, where at
least he would have been able to quote a sacred prece-
dent. The fact that he has since come to his senses, and
has published a sorely-needed apology, does not undo
the harm caused by an action that was un-Christian,
and completely inexcusable.
Is it any wonder that thousands of wavering church-
men, sickened by an example of such intolerance from
the very people whose duty it is to forgive unto seventy
times seven, should have turned away in disgust saying
to themselves, 'If that is how the Church wants me to
behave, I prefer to stay at home'? I am not out of touch
with public opinion, and from all over the country I
have overwhelming evidence that the attitude of the
great ecclesiastical leaders during the abdication has
struck a blow at the English Church from which only a
miracle can cause it to recover.
And that is the reason why I prophesy that the
Church of England Year Book for 1937, when our swift
evangelists eventually publish it in 1940, will make
Only a miracle, I said.
Whence is that miracle to come?
From the Archbishop of Canterbury ? It would indeed
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
be desirable, but it is to be feared that any abnormal
activity from this quarter might do more harm than
good. In any case, he has already put in two years* hard
work on the spiritual revival, and though it would be
ungracious to regard this work as responsible for the
decline, the statistics make it impossible to deny that
it is, at least, coincident with it.
From the eighty-year-old Bishop of London ? I have
crossed swords with this gentleman before, and have no
desire to add to his troubles. But I cannot help observ-
ing that there is a certain irony in the fact that one of
the reasons why he declines to retire is because he
desires to build sixty-three new churches in Greater
London. This means that even if he stays on for another
ten years, he will have to build a new church every
eight weeks. And though ... as we are all aware from .
his prowess on the hockey field ... he is a man of remark-
able constitution, it would seem that the efforts re-
quired for this superhuman task might, towards his
ninetieth year, leave him with hardly enough superflu-
ous energy for one church, let alone sixty-three new
churches, and an embarrassing number of old ones.
From the younger generation? It seems unlikely.
Not only are candidates for co-ordination becoming
increasingly scarce, but a regrettable number of the
newly ordained seem to think that their first duty is to
the left wing of the Labour party and that the service
of Christ can be left to look after itself. It is extremely-
unfortunate that these young ministers, whose experi-
ence of life is largely theoretical, should so constantly
take their sermons from the gospel according to Saint
Marx rather than the gospel according to Saint Mark.
However, we can hardly be surprised at this tendency,
NEWS OF E NGLAND
in view of the example that is set for them by their
elders and betters, of whom the present Dean of Canter-
bury is the most advanced apostle.
We shall not waste our time if we allow the spotlight
of publicity to rest, for a moment, on the figure of the
Dean. He is a man of considerable intellectual distinc-
tion. Not even his bitterest enemies have ever ques-
tioned the integrity of his convictions.
But how can a man of his intelligence and his honesty
conceivably hold such convictions in view of the facts
which are staring him in the face?
Consider these facts. Here is a man who is in a posi-
tion to obtain the fullest information about contempo-
rary Europe. He himself is in receipt of a nominal income
of 2,000 a year. He enjoys the luxury of a charming
residence in the city of Canterbury. On his desk, every
day, is placed a neatly folded copy of The Times. If
he chanced to open it, on the morning of April i6th,
1937, his kindly eye might have chanced upon the
following extract . . .
'Under the twelve months* administration of the
present Spanish Government over 4,000 priests have
been murdered in cold blood; nuns have been stripped
naked in the streets, outraged and murdered; churches,
shrines, private chapels and religious statues have been
desecrated with unspeakable obscenities and destroyed.
The Cathedral of Valencia, the seat of the Government,
has had a road driven through it which is in daily use/
The Times is not usually considered to be a sensation
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
sheet. Its reporting of the Spanish tragedy has been
consistently moderate. When, therefore, it gives us a
picture of Spanish republicanism beside which the
crimes of Nero appear humane, we may assume that
the nightmare is true.
What comment has the Dean to offer on this . . . the
most savage assault for centuries on the Christianity
which he serves?
He makes the following comment:
*A real religious note lies behind life in Republican
On my desk lies a book by a distinguished Catholic,
who enjoys the respect of many equally distinguished
Protestants. Spanish Rehearsal, by Arnold Lunn. The
book is open at a page which tells the following fully
A priest was being led out to his death. He was bound.
As he faced the executioners he said: *I want to bless
you. Please free my hands/
A Red cut the rope, and then hacked off his hands.
f Bless us now/ he sneered.
And the priest did bless them, moving about his
bleeding stumps until he died. 1
There seems to me to be a 'real religious note' in that
story. Is the Dean unable to hear it?
He went to Spain himself. He went to this tortured
country, and he remained in it for nine whole days . . .
or was it nineteen? It does not matter. For his mind
appears to have been already made up. As they poured
their propaganda into his ears he translated it into neat
little generalizations with which to edify his congrega-
tion. He proclaimed: *The determination to provide the
^Spanish Rehearsal, by Arnold Lunn, Hutchinson.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
utmost cultural as well as physical opportunities to all
gives promise of the realization of a social order nearer
to the intention of Christ than anything I have seen in
Spain during any of my previous visits/
Such a statement compels us to suggest that the man
who made it must be ignorant of the elementary facts
of the case. He must, for example, be ignorant of the
fact that one of the first acts of the enlightened Valencia
Government was to legalize prostitution. He must be
ignorant of the fact that one of the chief ministers in
that government proclaimed, amid public applause:
'Man comes not from God but from the beasts; that
is why his reactions are those of a beast.'
If he is not ignorant of these facts how can he observe
that there is 'a real religious note in Republican Spain
I suppose we might have expected it of him. After all,
his attitude towards Spain is precisely the same as his
attitude towards Russia. Incredible as it may sound,
he has stated, over and over again: 'The things I want
my Church to stand for lie behind what Soviet Russia
has done.' He has played a hundred variations on the
theme that Russia is the most Christian country in
What does it mean? Well , . . what}
'Religion is the opium of the People.' That stares you
in the face, in gigantic letters, on hoardings all over
Russia, The very idea of God, to the young Russian
child, is ludicrous and slightly indecent. Does the Dean
of Canterbury wish that slogan, 'Religion is the opium
of the People', to be hung outside the doors of Canter-
bury Cathedral? And if not, which of us is incapable of
understanding the English language ... the Dean or I?
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
I make no apologies for losing my temper. I lose it
not only as a Christian, but as a man who detests
muddle-headedness. In the words of my old friend Sir
Francis Lindley, a man who has rendered considerable
services to modern England: 'The attitude of some of
our highly-placed divines is stupefying, and to me per-
sonally, as a life-long member of the Church of England,
The Dean of Canterbury has the courage to be a great
leader. But how can he be a great leader if he stead-
fastly turns his back on the facts? The tragedy of it all
is heightened by the fact that his example is being
followed by so large a number of young clergymen.
There are hundreds of youths who, having obtained
inferior degrees at Oxford, have drifted, for lack of
anything better to do, to some smug theological college.
There, in complete ignorance of modern Europe, they
have indulged in debates about the evils of Fascism.
And at the end of the debate they frequently propose
votes of thanks to the Dean of Canterbury for ' showing
them the light'.
It is a pity ... to put it at its lowest level . . . that
these young fools do not realize that the Dean of Canter-
bury, and all the other disciples of Communist Chris-
tianity, are slowly but surely doing them out of their
I would like to quote one more story from Arnold
Lunn's Spanish Rehearsal.
* A verger who showed me over Canterbury Cathedral
told me that in Dean Farrar's day the police had to
control the long queue of would-be worshippers, which
extended far beyond the Cathedral into the street.
"In those days," he said, "they preached the word of
NEWS OF ENGLAND
God. But this Dean of ours preaches Social Credit, and
there are no queues to worry the police". 5
In that story you will find one of the principal reasons
for the increasingly rapid decline and fall of the English
Even so, at the risk of offending decent Christians, I
would suggest that the mentality of which the Dean of
Canterbury is the most flagrant example, is not the
mentality which is most responsible for the Church's
At least, the Dean is alive. He is somebody whom one
can fight, A priest who persistently lifts his voice in
praise of the men who are sworn to destroy his Master
may not command our respect, but at least he com-
mands our attention. But the vast majority of his
fellows do not lift their voices at all. They mumble on
and on, to congregations that grow daily more scanty
and more fatigued.
Why? Is it because they, unlike the Communist Dean,
are not supported by the pleasant consciousness of
2,000 a year?
That may have something to do with it. The Church
of England's finances are ... to say the least of it ...
odd. One might even say immensely odd, and oddly
immense. Far be it from me to deface these pages with
such wicked words as jiggery-pokery, though having
done so, I find the contour of the word so attractive
that I will let it stay. But though we will all admit that
no jiggery-pokery (there we are again!) is in the smallest
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
degree to be suspected, the suspicion remains that the
Church's finances are, as we have said before, odd.
It seems to me, for example, odd that thousands of
underpaid Durham miners pay toll to the Church on
every ton of coal sent to the surface. It seems even odder
when one reflects that this coal, directly or indirectly,
helps to warm the proletarian protuberances of the
Communist Dean. But we have had enough of him.
It seems odder still that a proportion of the Church's
income should come from slum property in London.
It is true that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners main-
tain that they are not legally responsible for this
property (which is in Paddington), but one would have
thought that they were at least morally responsible,
and that if they could not insist on immediate im-
provements, they should return the rents to the
It is not as though the Church of England were a
poor Church. It has an income in the neighbourhood of
16,000,000 a year. In the Commissioners' last report,
Government and other securities were listed at
32,476,654 and cash assets at 34,516,233.
But though the Church's resources are more than
adequate, its management of those resources is incom-
prehensible, whether we view it from the standpoint
of the common Christian or of the ordinary business
man. There are 4,000 benefices with less than 300 a
year income, out of which heavy expenses have to be
met. On the other hand, there are fat livings, with
incomes up to 2,000 a year and only a handful of
It was a similar state of affairs in the secular world
which led to the Reform Bill of 1832. In those days it
N E WS OF ENGLAND
was the ' rotten borough' which had to be eliminated,
and it was not till this was done that representative
government was anything more than a farce. A hundred
years have passed, but the Church has still to follow
the State's example, has still to eliminate its 'rotten
parishes' if representative Christianity is to be even
faintly worthy of its name.
Let us take a look at one of these country parishes.
We will not choose a rich one, for the great majority are
terribly poor. And the great majority are in the hands
of men who are far too old for their jobs. A brief perusal
of the pages of Crockford's Clerical Directory will give
you striking proof of the senility of the average country
It is a depressing prospect. Modern youth needs
direction. And in rural districts the only person avail-
able to give them that direction is the parson. In
thousands of villages, all over the country, the local
young people have become completely demoralized by
the absence of any sort of guidance or discipline.
'Parson's in bed . . . parson's getting up, but he's so
sick that he can only just crawl to church . , . parson's
back in bed again/ And Mrs. Parson is so busy with
her great barracks of a vicarage, so harassed by trying
to keep up appearances, by panting after a lawn-mower
to save the few shillings they used to pay to the odd
man, by spending the morning on her knees staining
the worn-out boards in the draughty hall, by giving
tea to a few old gossips who stare with malicious
THE FLOCK AND THE FATHERS
pleasure at the faded curtains ... so ... oh, so sick of
it all, that she can do nothing either.
So the village rots. The boys, who have nobody to
form them into a club, stand on the village green, gaping
like idiots, with fish-like mouths through which one sees
the stumps of a few teeth. (The teeth of young England
may not appear to you to be a pleasant topic, but it is
certainly an important one. Our younger generation
have the worst teeth in Europe. The smile of the average
English village boy is not only nauseating in itself . .
it is a very apt comment on the abuse of laissez-faire?)
Not that, the village boy has much to smile about.
Motor up the Great North Road, or any other of the
great, roads, west, south, or east, and as you approach
each village you will meet groups of youths, strolling
along arm in arm, dressed in cheap blue suits, with
cloth caps or bowler hats, and shoes that are too tight
for them. They are hunchbacked, slovenly, and un-
A young parson might possibly work a miracle with
these boys, though nobody would deny that his task,
at this stage of decay, would be a difficult one. But the
young parsons are becoming scarcer and scarcer. And
meanwhile the old men carry on.
Some of them are so feeble that they can hardly sign
their names to a document. Yet they must totter out
of bed in the early morning, in physical pain, shiver their
way into a draughty church, gabble through the com-
munion service and proffer the cup with such trembling
hands that the worshipper dreads lest the wine is spilt.
They ascend their pulpits, coughing and wheezing.
They stare out at their sad little congregations with
eyes so tired that they can hardly see. And then, in
NEWS OF E NGLAND
quavering tones, they read a discourse that might have
been interesting to a theological student thirty years
ago, but is completely incomprehensible to a rustic
I am not, I hope, making easy sport of men whose
lives have often been hard, monotonous and embitter-
ing. It is pity rather than anger that stirs one's heart as
one sees these relics of a past age hanging on so desper-
ately to an office for which they are no longer fitted.
But the times are too dangerous for pity. The race is
too swift. In England we are racing faster and faster
in the wrong direction. And while the humble old par-
sons can do no more than wave their hands in feeble
protest, before they fall exhausted by the wayside, their
richer brothers, their spiritual superiors, are in the
vanguard of the rout, urging us on to a precipice which
holds for us the same fate as it held for the herds of the
Study in Red
.T is HIGH TIME that we had a little light relief.
Strange to relate we shall find it among those very
people who, according to the Dean of Canterbury, are
the only fit rulers of this Empire . . * the British Bol-
It is extremely difficult to obtain precise statistics of
communist activity in this country. All that one can
safely say is firstly, that Russia is spending a great deal
of money on communist propaganda, and secondly that
she is spending it so inefficiently that the results are
in no way proportionate to the outlay.
There is only one communist member of parliament.
There were only two communist candidates at the last
election, for whom only 27,117 votes were cast. Even
in the distressed areas the communists are regarded
mth distrust and a certain contempt.
After all, the last two years have given the communists
jt good deal to explain away. The wholesale slaughter of
the chief disciples of Bolshevism, at the command of
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Stalin, has been an unpleasant setback to British
Stalin is practically the only one of the eminent men
who surrounded Lenin who has not been either shot
or 'liquidated'. Zinoviev, Kamanev, Rykov, Bukharin,
Radek, Sokolnikov, Piatakov, Yevdokimov, Smirnov,
Tomsky, Serebriakov, all have gone. Trotsky is in exile.
As Arnold Lunn has remarked, in words which must
have made some people very uncomfortable . . .
* There was only one Judas among the twelve apostles.
If Stalin is to be believed, there were ten Judases among
the first twelve apostles of communism. If St. Peter had
"liquidated" as a traitor to Christianity every apostle
save one, what would have happened to Christianity ? *
We promised some light relief. But first we must set
the stage, and throw the limelight on to some of the
favourite 'props' of British communism.
' The Communist Party of Great Britain is a section of
the Communist International and is bound by its deci-
sions. 9 This is a quotation from the party rules, and
may presumably be taken to mean what it says. It is
an important point, because the suggestion that any
British party is * taking its orders from Moscow* is
greeted by the communist intellectuals with titters of
contempt. The titters prove nothing except that the
titterers are ignorant of the first principles of the party
which they admire.
The official organ of the party is the Daily Worker.
This is a small, hysterical sheet, well worthy of study.
STUDY IN RED
It is a good example of the way in which all news can
be distorted to fit the communist theory. If a lorry-
driver were to run over a child, the accident would not
be reported, because the lorry-driver is a 'worker'.
If a ' gentleman* were to run over a child, the accident
would be given big headlines, and the impression would
be left that he had done it on purpose.
As far as I am aware, the Daily Worker has not yet
attributed the vagaries of the British climate to capital-
ism. I offer the idea to them. It would be excellent
propaganda to suggest that a capitalist cyclone was
hovering over the North Sea, endeavouring to dispel
the rays of the communist sun. And it would be as
near to the truth as most of the news that they do
The Daily Worker pays slavish homage to everything
Russian. Its pages are adorned with somewhat blurred
photographs of Moscow Venuses and Moscow Apollos.
It publishes cartoons of the Duke of Windsor and other
celebrities which, for sheer malice, can only be compared
with the cartoons of King George V with which Sim-
plicissimus regaled its readers during the war. Its
paragraphs are plastered with the word * Comrade*,
often employed with unconscious humour. 'I wouldn't
be seen dead in the same ditch with Comrade Cohen 5
may not be a literal transcription from its correspond-
ence columns, but it is a very fair reflection of them.
It is a very funny little paper. That is at once its
weakness, and our salvation. However ardently the
publishers and editors of the Left may argue, at lunch,
in favour of those economists (mercifully distant !) who
would find it so difficult to reconcile their consomme
with their convictions, the fact remains that Bolshevism
NEWS OF E NGLAND
is a humourless creed, and is not therefore likely to
commend itself to the British worker.
However vivid the imagination of the aforesaid pub-
lishers and editors, dreaming of that happy land (from
the comparative squalor of the Savoy Grill), it would
be difficult to believe that the British workman would
fail to see the joke of a procession of small urchins,
marching down the Strand with a banner bearing the
inscription: 'Give us technical power!' That is con-
sidered very inspiring in Russia, but it does not quite
fit into Cockney London.
Nor, to ascend the social scale, can one think that
the medical students of Bart's Hospital would be un-
aware of the humour of an essay entitled 'For Purity
of Marxist-Leninist Theory in Surgery' which recently
appeared in the highly estimated journal Marxist-
Leninist Natural Science. And even the reddest school-
teacher might find himself threatened by a spontaneous
contraction of the diaphragm (Bergson's definition of
laughter), if he were suddenly told to teach arithmetic
on the principles of the celebrated author of For Party
Spirit in Mathematics.
'Add a capitalist 2 to a communist 6. Divide the
result by a Trotskyite 4. What is the answer? ' Whatever
the answer may be in Russia, I have a shrewd suspicion
that in England it would be a lemon.
This complete humourlessness of Russian communism
is more important than might at first be apparent. A
party that cannot share in a nation's laughter is not
likely to strike roots deep into that nation's soil. It
may cause a great deal of damage, it may have a con-
siderable power to demoralize, but it is never likely to
STUDY IN RED
I might write a long and ponderous essay, bristling
with statistics, to support my contention that commu-
nism will never make any great appeal to the electorate
of this country, but it would bore me as much as it
would bore you. Besides, we have still to enjoy the light
relief which was promised earlier in this chapter.
And so we will go to a play instead. A Bolshevist play,
running to crowded audiences in the heart of London.
Few Englishmen are aware that this sort of thing exists
in their country. The majority, if they paid the theatre
a visit, would feel astonished that it had not been raided
by the police. I hope that my exposure will not cause
the authorities to intervene. Because, really, they would
be depriving us of a very good joke.
If ever there was a district where communism might
claim an excuse for breeding, and breeding with vio-
lence, it is in the slums round King's Cross. You do not
notice them, as you hurry out of the station on your
way from the North, You only see ugly shops, and ugly
pubs, and ugly trams, and such a general embarrassment
of ugliness that you jump into a taxi as quickly as
possible and close your eyes until you have arrived in
some district less painful to the vision.
But if you were to wander about a little, and turn
down some of the smaller streets, you would be assailed
by squalor on all sides. And this squalor, which exudes
from every narrow alley, and drifts in a smell of stale
poverty through every dark, shabby window, is some-
how enhanced by the advertisements which plaster the
walls . . . posters painting the delights of foaming ale,
N E WS OF ENGLAND
the merits of rich creamy milk, and ironically enough,
the desirability of spending your summer holidays at
In this mournful district, the Progress Theatre Club
X has its premises, and it is not surprising that most of
its members are ardent reds. You may judge the quality
of the plays they present by the advertisements and
the photographs outside the entrance. "The Red Dawn'
. . . "Melody in Moscow 5 . . . 'Cupid under Capitalism'
. . . that is the sort of thing. And if you study the
photographs you will gain the impression that this, at
least, is a stronghold of the Left, where words are not
minced, and where it would be highly inadvisable to
appear in an Old Etonian tie.
For this reason I decided to pay a visit to one of its
most advanced performances. It was a play which we
will call The Savages. 1 It has created a minor sensation
in communist circles.
After considerable difficulty I managed to discover,
among my acquaintances, a communist with a sense
of humour. Some days later we found ourselves climbing
up a flight of stairs, into a hall that was packed with
excited men and women, all of them wearing, in some
guise or other, the scarlet symbol of revolution.
The play was just beginning. Let us watch it.
Three Evil Geniuses of Capitalism wrecked are on a
desert island. They are ...
Firstly, a bishop. For some reason which the drama-
tist has not made apparent, he is clothed in a top hat,
a frock-coat, gaiters, and a pair of short white pants.
Secondly, a policeman, who appears throughout the
play in a heavy suit of underwear,
STUDY IN RED
Thirdly, a financier. He affects a mackintosh and a
One gathers, from certain lurid hints, that both the
mackintosh and the walking-stick have been employed
... (in a manner which the brain is unable to discern)
... to grind the faces of the poor.
These three persons, representing the Church, the
Law, and Finance, are confronted by natives of such
sweetness and light that any member of the Fairchild
Family, placed by their sides, would appear as a mon-
ster of lust and depravity.
The natives never have an evil idea in their heads.
Not they! They never fight, they never lie, they never
steal. All they do is to think long, lovely thoughts about
hibiscus blossoms. And when they want to eat, they
just nip up a bread-tree (which wobbles about in the
middle of the stage throughout the drama), and snap
off a few juicy loaves of bread.
It is a picture of native life which is not instantly
recognized by those of us who have had the opportunity,
or the misfortune, to travel off the beaten track. We
might suggest that, even without the aid of a highly
developed capitalist system, there were a few, just a
few, natives in Abyssinia whose minds did not dwell
exclusively on the delicacy with which they could
arrange crocuses in the hair of the village belle. Just a
few who had not lived solely on lettuces, honey-dew
and milk from an ample and obliging goat. Just a few
who, if confronted with a steak cut from the tenderer
portions of their maternal uncle, might . . . shall we say
. . . show a tendency (hastily checked, of course) to lick
their lips ?
But one must not allow such thoughts to distract us
NEWS OF ENGLAND
from the Beauty of the Drama. For the natives are
about to be 'corr-r-rupted by capitalism'. And never
was any corruption carried out more thoroughly. It is
Every ancient device that has ever helped a melo-
drama to creak through four acts is employed to hasten
this corruption. The village belle is seduced under the
bread-tree, before you can say ' knife'. The bishop, of
course, is delighted by this little unpleasantness, and
takes the opportunity to deliver a number of generaliza-
tions about the state of holy matrimony.
In the meantime, the financier has got busy and has
floated a company round the bread-tree (which is still
doing its best to collapse). This nefarious action has the
worst results. You may remember that in the old days
the natives were in the habit of darting up the tree,
with gay laughter, to pluck their bread for nothing.
But now, they have to toil up in chains, and give their
bread to the financier, who seizes it, and if possible,
whacks them on the head with it.
As for the policeman, he is here, there, and every-
where. No sooner does he see a nice clean girl, dreaming
about hibiscus blossom, than he whisks her off to gaol
for loitering. (Much hissing among the intelligentsia
at this sally.) No sooner does he see a mother, clutching
a baby to her breast, than he outs with his truncheon
and makes her scurry round the bread-tree (which
almost falls down with shock).
And love . . . love is driven out. Utterly. For ever.
And is replaced . . . (can you guess it?) ... by Prostitu-
tion. Instead of lying on banks of hibiscus, in positions
to which the most prudish producer of classical dancers
could not object, the wretched native women are swept
STUDY IN RED
hurriedly into a cave, where they await the attentions
of the financier.
At least, they would be swept off hurriedly if the stage-
carpenter (obviously a bourgeois} had not inadvertently
made the cave too narrow, thereby obliging the un-
happy women to make a less poignant exit through the
Number One Tabs.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the theme of The
Savages. The best that the extreme Left can do in the
way of drama. I have been very kind to this play. I
have added not a single line of caricature to its ridiculous
face. If one were to take it seriously one would say:
'God help the theatre if communism ever comes to
England.' But one cannot take it seriously. And if you
will read on, I will tell you why.
Here, in this theatre, there is a mystery.
Or perhaps I should not dignify it by such a resonant
word. Perhaps I should say just ... an incongruity.
It is so difficult to explain. If you had been sitting be-
side me, on this fantastic evening, it would not have
been necessary to explain at all. You would have sensed
it, as I sensed it.
You would have sensed this incongruous atmosphere
of ... respectability.
The whole performance gave an impression of im-
I can only assume that it was because the dramatist
was English, the actors were English, and the audience
NEWS OF ENGLAND
(with the exception of certain Polish gentlemen who
were obviously in the fur trade) was English. And be-
cause England has an eternal genius for mellowing. A
genius for taking the rough edges off revolution. For
clothing the ruins of systems in words of comfort, as
the ruins of her castles are clothed in the soft arms of
her native ivy.
That is a muddled explanation of the mystery, but it
will have to do. All through that evening there was a
strange sense of being at a village concert in an old-
fashioned English parish. The fat old lady in the front
row . . . surely that must be Lady Broadacres? And at
the end of the performance, will she not climb rather
laboriously on to the platform, to make her annual little
speech about how glad we all are that the evening has
been so successful, and that yet another sum of 8 173.
gd. . . . (applause) . . . will be available for the repair of
the church organ ? And surely she is wearing that bright
red scarf round her shoulders for no other reason than
that she has been staying out too late, cutting off dead
flowers in the rose-garden ?
It is the same on the stage. The cruder the propa-
ganda, the bloodier the threats, the more intensely
respectable does it all appear. Although the bishop in
shorts is mouthing blasphemies, one is convinced that
it is only the local vicar, who has gone a little astray
with his lines. And though the policeman in pants is
accusing the British Empire of every known and un-
known crime, he looks so like a nice, healthy farm boy,
and is so obviously enjoying this opportunity of wearing
a false moustache, that one feels, paradoxically, that he
is really making a speech in favour of the local squire,
who is standing in the Conservative interest. As for the
STUDY IN RED
financier, he kicks the natives with such relish that one
is convinced that he is longing for a job in Kenya Col-
ony, where he may have a chance of repeating his role
in real life. It makes one almost sad to think that if he
gets it, a paternal imperial government will gently but
firmly order him to keep his boots to himself.
I was so enchanted by my evening that I decided to
continue my investigations, and to take the first oppor-
tunity which presented itself of renewing my acquaint-
ance with the comedians of Cockney communism. I
had not long to wait. One night, glancing through the
pages of the Daily Worker, I saw the advertisement of a
meeting in a suburban town hall. Miss T., it appeared,
would speak on 'Russia Revisited', and all ' comrades'
were cordially invited.
I called for a cocktail, drank it, and asked Gaskin if
I were dressed in a sufficiently comradely manner.
He gave me a disapproving glance.
' Certainly, sir/
*I think a red tie, don't you?'
He went and got a lot of red ties. I chose one.
'That is a Hawes and Curtis tie, sir,' he observed, in
a tone that might well be described as flat.
'They won't know that/
Feeling slightly damped by the note of interrogation
in his voice, I set out.
A little later, I was climbing another flight of dark
stairs, opening a door, and seeing . , .
NEWS OF E NGLAND
The very same parish meeting that I had seen in the
Progress Theatre. Of course, the audience was different,
but the atmosphere was identical.
I am bound to admit that this time I was a little dis-
appointed. I had assumed that the audience at the
theatre was exceptional, that the disciples of the drama
were not representative of the fiercer spirits of British
Bolshevism. I was apparently mistaken.
Why, for instance, had nobody noticed the incon-
gruity of the picture which hung over my head ? It was
a large picture, and it stared the speaker in the face.
If I had been that speaker, I should first have been
forced to draw a veil over that picture. Or if not a veil,
a very opaque red flag. For the picture was a representa-
tion, in stark Victorian detail, of the Charge of the
Light Brigade. And underneath, inset in a sort of
lithographic haze, was a picture of Queen Victoria
What an insult! What an outrageous affront! A capi-
talist war, and a capitalist queen! A capitalist charge,
celebrated in capital poetry by a capitalist poet! How,
in the face of this shaming testimony, can the speaker
wax so lyrical about the Park of Rest and Culture in
Nevertheless, she does. She is a lady with a Cam-
bridge accent (and the Cambridge accent is a good deal
thicker than the Oxford), and she is saying a lot of
charming things about the Park of Rest and Culture,
which she pronounces Pawk of Rest and Cultuah.
She says things about it which make it sound like a
strange mixture of a garden city and the conventional
paradise of Mahomet.
'It is difficult for all of us, in a capitalist city/ she
STUDY IN RED
says, *to realize to the full the spirit of the Pawk of
Rest and Cultuah.'
She fixes me with a vaguely suspicious eye. I wonder
if she has realized that my tie cost half a guinea.
Anyway, she is wearing a tailor-made that looks
much more like Molyneux than Moscow, so I should
'The Pawk of Rest and Cultuah,' she continues, tf may
not be all that the workers intended it to be, materially.
I admit that there may not always be enough benches
to go round' . . . (she smiles icily) . . . 'though the
Russian worker's life is so full, so varied, that he has
little desire to loll about in despair, like his English
comrade . . . but the spirit of the Pawk of Rest and
Cultuah is one that we would do well to emulate.'
Actually, of course, it is a noisy, dusty little plot in
which undernourished Bolshevik children play marbles,
and undernourished Bolshevik bands play Strauss. It is
the sort of place which, in a sordid capitalist city, would
be regarded with disgust by respectable citizens, who
would write to the local papers and protest.
I think of Kensington Gardens. In the spring, with
the sunlight dancing through the silver birches. And the
statue of Peter Pan, and lots of fat little boys falling
about on the grass. And spaniels barking hysterically.
All very wrong, of course. The fat little boys, as we
all know, have breakfasted on the workers' blood. And
the capitalist spaniels, we are equally aware, constantly
interrupt their barking in order to take large, fierce
bites out of the corpses of the unemployed, which are
thickly strewn all over the grass. And yet, as the lady
with the Cambridge accent continues to eulogize the
Pawk of Rest and Cultuah, with its huge posters of
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Stalin, and its loud-speakers blaring propaganda, and
its highly-organized health parades and cultural games,
I feel I would rather have an hour, in rags, in Kensing-
ton Gardens, than a lifetime in shorts, in that prole-
However, the speech is not what really interests me
about this meeting of British Bolsheviks. It is the
audience. And the environment.
Everybody is well-fed. Tidy. Slightly smug. One feels
that if one were to repeat, even diffidently, the limerick
that begins: 'There was a young lady of Exeter' . . .
the response would be far from warm. The ingenuity of
the rhymes, one feels, would not be appreciated. And
the embarrassment of the young lady from Exeter (so
acutely portrayed in the last line) would be attributed,
however obscurely, to the capitalist system, and not
to the boisterousness of man.
You see, most of the men have beards. Very damping.
The old men have long beards, very clean, and the
young men have short beards, also very clean.
The young women have, obviously, never known love.
They have embraced Russia in a sort of frenzy of sexual
repression. (Admittedly, I am generalizing, but there is
truth in this impressionism.)
As for the old women, they were the biggest surprise
of all. Nothing could have been more unexpected than
their presence here ... it was almost surrealist. Three
old ladies, the 'Dear Old Things * of a hundred capitalist
drawing-rooms, heavily hung with velvet and filigree,
crowned with the toques of the dark ages before the
Red Dawn, the fine flower of centuries of iron-heeled
capitalism, there they sat, blinking and twittering, and,
wonder of wonders, planted brazenly on each impregna-
STUDY IN RED
ble bosom was a red rosette, of a magnificence enough
to make any shire horse piebald with envy.
I had had enough.
The joke had suddenly begun to pall.
When I came to the meeting, I had not the faintest
intention of creating a scene. I had merely wanted to
sit back and make notes.
But when the meeting was thrown open to the general
public, when questions were asked, and when, in reply
to one of the questions, the lady from Cambridge
blandly assured a bearded young man that in Moscow
a f worker's' wife bought a mink coat as nonchalantly
as a British woman bought a cotton apron, I could stand
it no longer.
I found myself standing on my feet. The following
dialogue then took place.
MYSELF. (Knees knocking together with capitalist irrita-
tion) Do you believe in liberty?
MISS T. (Nose growing red with communist frenzy)
What do you mean by liberty?
MYSELF. I mean the ability to say, or write, or sing, or
otherwise express, exactly what I think, when, where
and how I like.
MISS T. (Gulping a glass of water) Yes. That is to
say . . .
MYSELF. (Knees doing castanets) Do you?
MISS T. (Merging on magenta) Yes.
MYSELF. In that case, perhaps you will kindly answer
NEWS OF ENGLAND
COMRADE. Order! Order!
MYSELF. (With icy surprise, such as Grand Dukes used
to show when the moujiks did not press their stomachs into
the snow with sufficient alacrity] I was about ... I say
about ... to ask a question.
MISS T. (Deep magenta) Let him ask it.
MYSELF. (Still icy) In that case, will you kindly tell
me if I should be allowed to get up in the Red Square
at Moscow, blackguard the Soviet Government, and
receive the protection of the Soviet police, in the same
way that you are allowed to get up in this room, black-
guard the British Government and receive the protec-
tion of the British police ?
There was a terrible silence. Nobody moved.
*I am still waiting for an answer/ I said.
Suddenly, from a corner, a young man with a beard
that contrasted oddly with his shrill voice, screamed,
* All that would happen in Moscow is that you would be
certified as insane!'
The tension was broken. There was loud applause.
The old ladies nodded and beamed. The Cambridge lady
patted her hair and tossed her head. The bearded young
men slapped each other on the back.
I stood there staring at them. I suddenly felt very
tired and unhappy. Better to go away. I picked up my
hat. With an ironic bow, somebody opened the door.
I went out. As I stood in the doorway, watching the
cheerful, noisy crowds jostling each other on the pave-
ments, I felt that I knew how a prisoner must feel as he
steps from the shadow of his cell and feels the sunlight
once more upon his face.
Home of Lost Causes
r UR SEARCH for red revolution in modern England
has not, so far, been very successful.
Admittedly, we have had plenty of evidence to show
us that there is a widespread sympathy for the theory
of communism. We have seen comfortable clerics in
cathedral cities making ardent speeches in favour of the
only two countries who have made atheism the religion
of the state, but we have not yet seen any clerics who
take off their collars, or return their incomes to the
state. We have seen prosperous publishers doing their
utmost to undermine the fabric of society which sup-
ports them, but since their fulminations have been
interrupted by the popping of champagne corks at the
Savoy Grill, we have not been impressed.
Perhaps we have been searching in the wrong place?
Lord Haldane once said that: *It is in universities that
the soul of a people mirrors itself.' Perhaps, instead of
wandering about the poorer streets of London, we would
have been more profitably employed in taking the train
NEWS OF ENGLAND
to Oxford? After all, whenever revolution stalks through
the streets of a foreign city we are always informed that
'students' are to the fore. In Cairo, it is invariably the
'students' who barricade the bridges over the Nile and
wave flags in the stolid faces of the British Grenadiers,
In Lisbon, when the trams fall over (which is very
often), and block the street, and form a convenient
platform for fiery orators, we always find that the
'students' are prominent in the entertainment. 'Stu-
dents', always 'students', marching through the
troubled streets of Europe. They march so much that
one wonders how they ever find time to read. If I took
all that exercise, I should be singularly ill-informed.
However, since the word 'student' has become a
symbol of unrest, of revolt, and sometimes of resurrec-
tion, we might do worse than pay a visit to Oxford, in
order to see how it sounds when delivered with the
celebrated Oxford accent. And quite frankly, we might
be almost relieved if we discovered that here it had the
same challenging ring as when it is cried in the streets
of Vienna, of Prague, and even . . . though somewhat
sotto wee ... in the arcades of Milan. We have not yet
heard anybody get very excited about anything at all,
in modern England. A little energy would come as a
We will start our pilgrimage in the Oxford Union
The Oxford Union is probably the most famous de-
bating society in the world. To become its president is
the highest ambition of every undergraduate with a
HOME OF LOST CAUSES
taste for politics. Among the past holders of this office
are Prime Ministers, Lord Chancellors, Archbishops,
Viceroys . . . and an occasional oddity like myself.
The Oxford Union is supposed to be a barometer
which shows what young England is thinking. Some of
its debates are given more publicity, throughout
Europe, than the debates in the House of Commons.
For instance, the famous occasion when the Union
passed a resolution, by a large majority, 'that the
members of this house will not fight for King and
But you never can tell with young England. Particu-
larly if you attempt to judge its mentality by the Oxford
Union. For Oxford is still 'the home of lost causes'.
True, there is nothing new about that. She always was.
But in this year of 1938, when the wheels of commerce,
of construction and destruction, of every activity of
man, are revolving with a velocity which is terrifying
to all thinking men, the paradox of Oxford's lethargy
becomes all the more startling. She is like a tortoise on
Many of us love her for it. We think all the more
tenderly of those spires, dreaming on, dreaming on,
while the moonlit sky is slashed with the bat-like wings
of aeroplanes. Of the crocuses blooming so primly, so
regularly, in the walks of Magdalen, while all around,
a world is crashing, and the air is thick and dusty with
its fall. Of dons in ancient dining-halls, sipping pale
sherry, and commenting so charmingly upon its
bouquet, while far away, new armies, drunk with new
wine, are carving new designs on the weary surface of
this old world.
It is all very delectable.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
At the same time, it is all very dangerous.
And now we can start on our pilgrimage. At the Read-
ing Room of the Union Society, Oxford, England, 1938.
I opened the door. There were five people in the room.
Two were very old clergymen, the other three were
undergraduates. The old clergymen were both snoring.
I am sure that they had been snoring ever since I left,
in the early nineteen twenties. Of the three under-
graduates, one was an Indian, who looked up in alarm
from the cross-word puzzle of The Times, as though
an animated anagram had suddenly walked into the
room. The second was yawning over an old copy of the
Illustrated London News. The third was yawning over
nothing, and was rather sulkily watching the second,
waiting till he had finished with the Illustrated London
News, which, for reasons best known to himself, he
appeared to covet.
It was obvious that any man who stayed long in this
atmosphere would fall fast asleep, but I did not want
to leave until I had peered round to see if there were
any indications of a new spirit. Ah ... here was some-
thing! A new magazine.
The Oxford Guardian. (Published each Tuesday
during Term under the auspices of the Oxford Univer-
sity Liberal Club.)
I happened to be one of the original founders of the
Oxford University Liberal Club. I not only chose a large
number of its principles, but I also chose its curtains
and its carpets, which were of the same colour ... a
HOME OF LOST CAUSES
chaste but hopeful grey. I therefore began to read the
magazine with interest, particularly as the leading
article was entitled: 'A Change of Outlook".
But as I read, my head began to nod. Not only was
there no evidence of a change of outlook, but there was
every evidence that the sleepy complacency which had
eventually led me to resign from the Liberal party,
years ago, had noticeably increased. There were the
same old phrases announcing 'a revival of liberalism*
... a revival which, however desirable, is illusory.
There were the same old sighs for the return of 'free
trade* . . . sighs which sounded as though they came
from another world, in this age of economic nationalism.
(It was significant that one of the gossip paragraphs told
of a week-end party in Cobden's old house, and was
proudly headed 'Under the Shadow of Cobden*, as
though Cobden had anything more to say to the modern
world than Crippen.) There was even . . . irony of ironies
... a message from that little elf of Liberalism, Lloyd
George. The message seemed to echo from an immense
distance, but the voice, though somewhat cracked, was
authentic. Speaking of the present government, he
proclaimed . . . 'they have wrecked the world *s hopes
of peace and disarmament, and sent it reeling down a
Gadarene slope to ruin'. This, from the principal creator
of that first charter of the Gadarenes, the Treaty of
Versailles, was a little too much to bear. So I put the
magazine away. As I did so I noticed a little news item
on the back page. 'Rumour has it that Greta Garbo
is about to join the Liberal party.*
Doubtless to satisfy the desire to be alone.
N E WS OF ENGLAND
Our tour continues. The reader must again be re-
minded that he is walking through the halls of a Society
which, according to popular tradition, is the centre of
young English political thought, that every under-
graduate he passes is a potential member of parliament.
Let us therefore descend to the debating hall, and bend
over the minute book of the Society, in order to see
which of the many vital problems of this distracted
world have been chosen as subjects of discussion.
Here, taken at random from the minute book, are a
few of them.
'That this House wishes its ancestors had emigrated
'That Oxford is a rotten borough/
'That this House refuses to believe that all the world's
'That sport is either murder or suicide/
'That the substitution of this House for the House of
Commons would be of great benefit to the nation/
'That this House proclaims its undying faith in
'That Utopia will be a republic/ Etc. etc.
We may be pardoned if we feel puzzled. Far be it from
us to suggest that the minds of the very young should
be directed exclusively towards the ponderous, but there
is a levity about these subjects (which form a large
proportion of the 'problems' for discussion), which
seems to indicate that those who framed them are not
even interested in the current affairs of the world.
As topics for essays by schoolboys, they might pass,
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though one would assume that they had been set by a
very dull teacher. But as themes for an evening's debate
by minds that are, in all essentials, adult, they are be-
Perhaps, however, the debates invest these paltry
subjects with an importance that is not inherent in
them ? Perhaps, like Socrates meditating on a piece of
thistledown, these young men can weave a mighty
theme around a minute fact ? Let us go and see.
The debating hall is fairly full. Even so, it looks
empty enough, when I compare the attendance with the
sort of attendance we used to have in the old days.
' Private business 9 is just beginning, and as usual the
officers are being asked questions whose main purpose
is to raise a laugh. As I listen to these questions I try
to think of some of the hundreds of questions which I
have asked and answered, as a private member and an
officer, in the past. They sounded very funny at the
time. What would they sound like to-day?
I can only remember one. It was a question addressed
to the then President, Mr. Leslie Hore-Belisha, who is
now Secretary for War. I happened to notice, on the
Sunday preceding the debate, that his name was twice
mis-spelt in our two principal Sunday newspapers. I
therefore asked the President the following question:
'Sir, in view of the fact that in last Sunday's Observer
you were described, in your capacity as President of
this Society, as Leslie Hare-Beliska, and in the Sunday
Times of the same date, as Leslie Nore-Belishat, will you
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kindly inform the Society what steps you propose to
take against these two newspapers for their unwarranted
attempt to deprive this university of one of its most
cherished philological phenomena?'
Far be it from me to suggest that this question is
worthy of being dragged up from the past, but at least
it made people laugh at the time. But at these questions
to which we are listening to-night, nobody is laughing.
They are the same sort of questions, but nobody seems
The debate begins.
The motion before the House is: 'That there are Too
Many Books.' A feeble motion, you will agree, but one
which is, at least, arguable. It could be debated from
the point of view of the Tory who considers that * educa-
tion is the curse of the working-classes ', or of the author-
itarian who wishes the public to read only what the
state commands, or in a lighter vein, of an author who
is alarmed by the ever-increasing flood of books against
which he has to compete.
But as the debate proceeds, it is evident that none of
the speakers has the least intention of referring to the
motion at all. I become more and more puzzled. If
any young man in my time had made such a speech as
that which I am now hearing, I should have told him
either to stick to the motion or to sit down.
Or is it really I who have changed ? Quite honestly, I
think not. For example, the speaker who is now before
me is not attempting to disguise the fact that he is
reading every word of his speech. He holds up the
manuscript as if he were proud of it. Not for one word
does he stray from this manuscript, not even the most
pitiful attempt at debate does he make. No such prac-
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tice would have been tolerated for five minutes in the
days which I knew.
Well, well, this probably makes dreary reading. It
suggests that I am writing with one foot in the grave
and the other in a mustard-bath. So we will leave this
sad exhibition, and as we wander out into the deserted
garden we will try not to reflect, too pessimistically, on
the future of our country if the young men, drawling
away inside, are to be numbered among its future
The suggestion that I am writing with one foot in the
grave, even though I made it myself, is inclined to
rankle. And as we are approaching an aspect of Oxford
life which is apt to arouse heated controversy, we will,
in a few moments, call in some witnesses from the
The reason we shall need these witnesses is because
we are going to suggest that drunkenness, among mod-
ern Oxford undergraduates, has reached a stage when
it ceases to be funny. And if one makes accusations of
that nature, one must be prepared to support them with
When I was at Oxford people didn't drink very
heavily. There were occasional celebrations when we
had too much beer, and there was an awful young man
at Magdalen who was reputed to drink methylated
spirits out of a large black coffee cup. But on the whole
we were a sober lot. Most of us were poor, anxious to
work, and desperately in earnest about the new world
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which, as we pathetically believed, was being built for
To-day it is different. Generalizations are dangerous,
and statistics, even if they were available, would be
misleading. But on the various occasions in recent years
when I have attended parties at Oxford I have seen
more drink consumed in a few evenings than during
my whole period as an undergraduate. You call on a
man at eleven o'clock in the morning and he automati-
cally produces a bottle of sherry and fills your glass
before you have time to inform him that sherry, at
eleven a.m., is not one of those things which, in your
opinion, adds to the gaiety of life. You call on people for
tea and you find them drinking whiskies and soda. As
for the cocktail parties, particularly those parties which
are largely attended by hard-mouthed debutantes who
have swept up from London, the only parallel I can
suggest for them is the sort of party which was fashion-
able in New York, during the days of prohibition, when
the butler's principal occupation was to carry young
women upstairs, and lay them on beds with wet towels
round their heads.
In case I am accused of libel and slander I will shelter
behind a witness whose word can hardly be questioned,
Mr. Keith Briant. Mr. Briant, who left Oxford only
last year, was editor of the most important Oxford
undergraduate journal, the Isis * . . a position which I
once held myself. The editor of the Isis has as good a
chance as any undergraduate of getting a bird's-eye
view of the activities of the university. He has to go
everywhere and see everybody, and it is very important
that he should keep himself, as far as possible, un-
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Mr. Briant has recently produced a book called
Oxford Limited, 1 which should have made a much
greater sensation than it did. In this book he describes
a pretty little custom called 'The Freshmen's Blind'.
I never heard of any such custom before. It is, as far
as I know, a new idea. According to Mr. Briant (who
has not been contradicted) 'The Freshmen's Blind' has
already been adopted by a large number of colleges.
The idea of this 'Blind' is for the second-year men
to give a party to the Freshmen, and to make them
drunk. It seems to me silly and unpleasant, even when
it is described in such mild terms as that. But Mr. Briant
(who is very far from being a prig) does not describe
it in mild terms at all. After telling us how the Fresh-
men, most of them straight from school, had been
assembled in a room which was almost completely bare,
and how they had been primed with intoxicants such
as whisky, gin, sherry, beer, Malaga, Advokaat, and
Cointreau, we are given the following picture of the
' By the fireplace, a group of Freshmen were being in-
structed in the verses of a bawdy song, which seemed of
epic length. Their faces registered varying expressions of
alcoholic appreciation. All of us were trying to look as
much like men of the world as we could, and endeavour-
ing to give the impression that such evenings were of
common occurrence. We must have looked uncommonly
funny. Glasses showed a tendency to fall from their
owners' hands to the floor.
'By eleven o'clock the room was a shambles. Someone
had put his hand through one of the windows. The floor
below was bespattered with blood and whisky. The
^Oxford Limited, by Keith Briant. Michael Joseph Ltd. IDS. 6d.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
noise was deafening; the gramophone alternatively
whined and screamed. One man was singing an inter-
minable song in a corner with only himself as audience;
two or three Freshmen were lying on the floor. A num-
ber had already been carried to bed. The floor was lit-
tered with broken glass and empty bottles. One of the
hosts was instructing a Freshman in the delicate art of
relieving himself through a window. Two others had
not passed the stage of bellicosity.'
It is very easy for us to sneer at the German universi-
ties, with their practice of duelling, which I should be
the first to condemn as dangerous and childish. But if
we are talking about things which are dangerous and
childish, we can hardly deny that Mr. Briant has given
us an example of an Oxford custom which merits both
those adjectives quite as strongly as any of the activities
of Heidelberg. 2
It might have been thought, by the chivalrous and the
optimistic, that the admission of women to the univer-
sity would have had a restraining influence on some of
the wilder spirits. So far is this from being the case, it
would seem that ever since women arrived on the scene,
manners have deteriorated. There may, or may not,
be any connection between these two facts. On the
whole, I should think there were little.
If Oxford women had not been so unattractive, things
2 Since the above was written my attention has been drawn to a leading
article in the Isis, published in 1930, in which it is casually stated: 'The fact
remains that (apart from Buenos Aires and the higher circles of Chicago)
there is a more constant high level of intoxication in Oxford than anywhere
else in the world/
HOME OF LOST CAUSES
might have been different. Manners might have im-
proved, while morals suffered a corresponding deteriora-
tion. As it is, the amount of actual sexual immorality is
probably small. I doubt if any undergraduate, even with
the best and warmest intentions, ever succeeds in
obtaining more than a few moist caresses from the
female students. It seems to me strange that he should
hanker after even such minor delights, for the average
woman undergraduate would seem to take a pride in
making herself as unpleasing as possible. Her hair is
untidy, her gown is askew, her fingers are frequently in
need of a hard rub with pumice-stone, followed by a
prolonged immersion in peroxide. However hard up he
may be for an emotional outlet, it is difficult to see how
an undergraduate can gain any thrill from the presence
of these houris in his rooms, particularly as I understand
that their favourite drink is cocoa. Compared with the
* co-ed' of an American university, the woman under-
graduate of Oxford would receive nought for physical
If it were otherwise, Oxford might not to-day offer so
frequent a spectacle of brawls and disorders which, if
they took place in the East End of London, would call
for the intervention of the police. Again, I quote from
the vivid pages of Oxford Limited.
'The Proctors' disregard of disorder in the City of
Oxford would strike any visitor to the university as
incredible. Some restaurants are turned into a bear
garden, and any resident, traveller, or visitor who en-
deavours to eat a meal in them does so at his own peril.
If he takes a lady with him, she is liable to insult from
the tipsy louts who frequent them, and she is lucky if
she does not receive a dish of food over her dress.
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During the free fights which take place periodically,
other people's tables and food are scattered indiscrimi-
nately. Any night, food may be flying through the air;
when the undergraduates are waiting for a course to be
served, they habitually endeavour to draw attention to
themselves by such means. Later in the evening, they
may be seen staggering out with disordered stomachs
which occasionally precipitate their contents before
their owners reach their destination. When I was last
in one of these restaurants the majority of the women
present had enveloped themselves as far as possible in
napkins and tablecloths in order to protect their dresses
It is because I regard such orgies (which, as we must
remind the reader once again, are something new in the
history of the university) as typical of the universal
contempt for discipline, which is spreading throughout
the British Isles, that I give them this prominence.
Such a contempt for discipline will always be found
in countries which have lost their faith. In the authori-
tarian countries the ancient worship of the Deity has
been transferred to the new worship of the State. God
forbid that we should ever experience a like transition.
AH the same, ft is better to worship even at the man-
made shrine of patriotism than to worship at no shrine
However, at Oxford there are certain causes of dis-
ruption which are peculiar to the university, and are
not to be found in the nation at large. It will be worth
our while to examine these causes for a moment.
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For some weeks last year The Times threw open its
correspondence columns to a discussion of the distrac-
tions which, in many people's opinion, were defeating
the purposes of the university and undermining the
morale of the undergraduate. Much of the correspond-
ence was worthless, because as soon as the word
' Oxford* is mentioned in any newspaper, the strangest
people spring up from the strangest places and write the
strangest things. Ancient deans flap out of their rooker-
ies, caw three times, and disappear again. Professors
whom one had thought long dead arise from clouds of
dust, make several loud barks, and sink back into
lethargy. 'Anxious Parents', that obscure class who
occupy so much space in all newspaper controversies,
write fluttering little letters about nothing at all, filled
with petulant inquiries about matters which are entirely
The Times correspondence about Oxford was no ex-
ception to this rule. But although much of it was value-
less, one did receive from it, at the end, a pretty strong
conviction that the advent of the motor car and the
cinema had been definitely detrimental to the under-
I can recall very few of my own generation who had
motor cars. The vast majority of us came up to Oxford
to work. There was, as Mr. Hore-Belisha has recently
observed, in another connection, *so much to do, and
so little time in which to do it*. But now . . . study the
advertising columns of the Isis and you will gain the
impression that you are reading a motoring magazine.
'You are bound to need a car soon!* proclaims the ad-
vertisement on the back cover of the issue which lies
before me. Apparently the advertisement is not exagger-
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ating. At any rate, as the original correspondent in
The Times was at pains to point out, in referring to
the changes brought by the motor car:
'The so-called system of supervision exists largely in
name only. The ease, for instance, with which a boy of
19 or 20 is given leave to go to London, frequently with-
out any adequate reason, is deplorable. To spend the
evening at a night-club in Soho, or the afternoon at a
sherry-party in the West End, may be a perfectly harm-
less amusement, but it is not for this that most boys are
sent to the university/
For weeks the correspondence dragged on in The
Times, and eventually petered out. As far as one knows,
nothing was done about it, and as far as one expects,
nothing ever will be done. If it were, there would be
shrill screams, from all classes and all parties, that an
unwarrantable assault was being made upon f liberty'.
This chapter has made gloomy reading. To many it
will seem one-sided, superficial, prejudiced. The honest
undergraduate will admit that it is true.
What is the use of pouring out millions, as Lord
Nuffield has poured them out, upon a university which
is rotten in spirit? The immense new college which is
about to be built, as a result of Lord Nuffield ? s benefi-
cence, will, of course, involve the clearance of some of
the more flagrant architectural monstrosities which dis-
figure Oxford, to such an extent that Oxford is now one
of the ugliest cities in the world.
But though Lord Nuffield *s millions may cause to be
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destroyed some of the Oxford that is bad, may even
cause to be erected some building which is worthy of the
Oxford of the past, of what use will that building be,
if it is spiritually empty?
The purpose of the new college is to ' study the facts
and problems of contemporary society'. It aims at
bridging the gulf between the theoretical students of
contemporary civilization and the men responsible for
carrying it on, between the economist, the political
theorist, the student of government and administration
on the one hand, and on the other the business man, the
politician, the civil servant, and the local government
official, not to mention the ordinary everyday man and
Grand ideals. To be grandly launched. With great
halls, and spacious gardens, and quantities of Fellows
and Directors, who will be in receipt of salaries which
would make the average European professor water at the
mouth. But there is one thing which is more important
than any building, more desirable than the richest hall
or the most spacious garden, and that is the right spirit
in the young generation who will one day throng these
And for that spirit, in modern Oxford, you will search
.T is TIME, once again, that we had a little light relief.
It is time, in fact, that we had a really good laugh.
Up till now, our English journey has been extremely
depressing. It is giving us the creeps. We are in the
mood when we would like to forget it all ... to draw our
chairs up to the fire, put our feet on the mantelpiece,
order a whisky and soda. And of course a copy of
For Punch is the nation's jester. And we are sorely in
need of him just now.
Here we are, then. The fire is burning brightly. The
drink is a good one. Punch is on our lap. As we open itj
we can reflect that after all we are not really wasting
our time. It may not be true that one can learn as much
from a nation's jesters as from its prophets or its princes,
but at least one can learn something.
For a nation's jester has, or should have, his finger
on the national pulse. In the rattle of his bells one should
hear, however distantly, the echo of other bells . . . the
bells that rouse men from their sleep, that call them to
worship, that ring them to war. And on the distorted
mirror which he holds up for the diversion of the crowd,
the crowd may sometimes see a truer picture of its own
face than on a smoother, soberer surface.
There was a time when Punch fulfilled this function to
perfection. A bound copy of every volume, starting with
Number One, has been a feature of my own family's
library ever since I can remember. And a great deal of
English history it has taught me. It is only in the pages
of Punch, for example, that you will realize the full force
of the unpopularity of Queen Victoria at one stage of
her reign. Now that Queen Victoria has been canonized
by Hollywood, and sentimentalized out of all knowledge
by British historians, it would seem blasphemy to say
a word against her. So we will not say it. We will merely
observe that any magazine which ventured to reprint
some of Punch's contemporary Victorian cartoons would
be accused of the grossest bad taste.
So it was all through the Victorian age. Punch's
humour rang true. The drawing-rooms of Du Maurier
were as authentic as the pubs of Phil May, who suc-
ceeded him. The cartoons of Sir Charles Tenniel were
not merely an arrangement of lay figures, they were
searchlights on history. The drawing which he entitled
* Dropping the Pilot', which showed the young Kaiser
leaning over the side of the ship, staring at the departing
figure of Bismarck, had a quality of genius to which he
did not always attain. But there can be no doubt about
the consistently high level of his cartoons, and of those
of his successor, Linley Sambourne.
Then came the war. And something happened to
Punch. Or rather nothing happened to Punch. The jester
NEWS OF ENGLAND
kept his same old suit, held tighter to his same old quill,
and rattled the same old bells, which sounded more and
more thin, and out of tune. The majority of the British
public, apparently, did not notice the incongruity.
After all, Punch was an * institution'. One could not
imagine life without it. Whenever one heard anything
funny, one said, automatically: * That's good enough for
Punch. 9 And so, it went on and on, and still on.
I do not imagine that anything I say will have the
least effect upon its circulation. The best I can hope is
that I may cause some of its readers, as they laugh, to
ask themselves what they are laughing at, and if they
should be laughing at all.
It was after the war, when I first began to read Punch
seriously (if you know what I mean) instead of turning
over the pages to look at the pictures, that I began to
wonder why it was that some things that struck me as
tragic were regarded, by Punchy as fit subjects for
Consider that phrase, the 'temporary gentleman',
which, to England's disgrace, was used as an expression
of contempt for those gallant men whose bravery or
ability had caused them to rise from the ranks to the
officer classes. I do not know if Punch invented it, but
I do know that it made the freest possible use of this
*joke\ In my eccentric opinion it thereby forfeited
every claim to be considered as a paper which gentle-
men, temporary or permanent, could regard with
That joke of the 'temporary gentleman' was the
ugliest and cruellest joke which has ever been made in
any language. In two words it expresses depths of
callousness and vulgarity before which, I should have
thought, the decent man would stand aghast. To sneer
at a man who had stormed the heights of Gallipoli be-
cause he slipped up on the floor of the Savoy, to point
a finger of scorn at a man whose bravery had saved the
lives of his 'betters* merely because he wore a white tie'
with a dinner jacket, to giggle behind his back because
he was not as efficient with a fork as with a bayonet
. . . such conduct, I repeat, is cruel and contemptible.
Punch was in the vanguard of these elegant scoffers.
And since Punch was to be found in every officers' mess
in England, the wretched 'temporary gentleman ' whose
sole crime was that he had been a finer soldier than the
rest, was subjected to perpetual humiliation.
I have spoken to some of these men who told me that
they had been tempted to resign their commissions out
of disgust at the mentality which inspired that un-
It might have been hoped that twenty years of pre-
carious peace, and the prospect of a world ringing ever
more recklessly down swifter grooves of change, would
have woken Punch up. It might have been expected
that the jester would have bestirred himself, tuned up
his bells, and found something better to laugh at than
the uncouthness of domestic servants, the quaintness
of the poor, and the gaffes of the nouveaux riches.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
It might have been thought, in fact, that Punch would
have cast off its petty snobbery, and realized that there
are quite a number of things in the world which are just
as funny as, let us say, the man who wears an old school
tie to which he is not entitled.
Punch, however, did not wake up. It remained as fast
asleep as the great middle-class public which it so faith-
fully represents. And it is the fact that it does represent
them which is so disturbing to any honest student of
Picking up the first number of the year 1937, and
opening it at random I find a picture called 'The Serv-
ants* Ball 3 . It shows a number of ladies and gentlemen,
dancing with their servants. Without exception each of
the ladies and gentlemen is provided with a fiercely
Norman profile, and each of the domestics is provided
with an arrogantly turned-up nose.
The centre of the stage is occupied by His Lordship,
who is dancing with Emily, the housemaid. Emily is
holding him at arm's length, for which I do not blame
her. In the background, the butler stands with Her
Ladyship, watching. Underneath is the * joke'.
Sutler: I fear, my lady, that Hemily is not a good mixer.
It is doubtless foolish to read too much into a trivial
little joke in a comic paper. Yet I cannot refrain from
observing that I find this 'joke' not only unfunny but
repulsive. Perhaps this is due to an inability to see in
such an institution as a servants* ball anything that is
other than embarrassing. It may have been different in
the Edwardian age, when servants and masters still
thought themselves to be members, not only of a differ-
ent class but of a different race. To-day it only serves,
in a very unpleasant way, to draw attention to a barrier
which, in 1937, * s n t a little incongruous. If Emily, the
housemaid, were to be other than distant with His
Lordship, she would very soon be given to understand
that she was stepping out of her place, and would
probably be informed on the following day that her
services were no longer required.
This note of bourgeois snobbishness runs through the
whole paper. The members of the proletariat are always
represented as short, mean, ugly, clumsy, stupid and
ridiculous. The members of the aristocracy are always
represented as tall, noble, and rather splendid . . .
^though of course, old chap, we can't be expected to
have brains, what? 5
Moreover, it is assumed that the lower classes are still
awed by the aforesaid aristocracy, that they still gape
up at them with a mixture of fear and respect. Is Punch
... by which I mean the English middle classes . . .
completely unaware of the changes which are shaking
society? When I open its pages in the year 1937, and
find a housemaid addressing a plumber, who is wearing
a bowler hat, and saying to him, 'I 'ope you're not
thinking of mending 'er Ladyship's taps with your 'at
on, Mr. Brown?' ... I wonder, quite honestly, in what
circles the artist moves and has his being. AH humour
that is humour must be based, however remotely, on
truth. This joke bears no sort of relation to truth. It is
inconceivable that any housemaid in modern England
could make such a remark, and it is inconceivable
that any plumber, on hearing it, would regard her, as
he regards her in the drawing, with such respectful awe.
The average plumber (who has to be an exceedingly
intelligent man) would either think that the woman had
gone mad or would burst into rude and derisive laughter.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
We turn on the pages. If it were not for the date at
the top we might imagine that we were back in the days
of Du Maurier, though there is little of Du Maurier's
skill to give charm to this fustian. We find the old joke
about the mean Scotsman who will not give the taximan
a tip. We are asked to smile at a picture of a man wear-
ing a loud tie ... this picture, by the way, is accom-
panied by a caption which, to me, is so utterly pointless,
that I will print it in the hope that either the editor or
some loyal reader may be able to tell me where its
carefully hidden humour resides. Here it is , . .
Where on earth did you get that tie, Johnson?
From my Auntie Flo, sir.
Just like that. Nothing more. I have read these lines
forwards, backwards and upside down, and in none of
these positions do they occasion even the faintest spon-
taneous contraction of the diaphragm. Johnson got his
tie from Auntie Flo. Auntie Flo gave Johnson his tie.
It is a loud tie. From Auntie Flo, Johnson received a
loud tie. The mind reels at the effort to extract humour
from this echo of the Stone Ages.
But at least it is an inoffensive joke. I wish I could
say as much of half the other jokes with which this paper
is filled. For if they have a point at all, it resides in the
effectiveness with which they sneer at the disabilities of
the poor, from the safe vantage point of 2,000 a year.
Punch, however, like the English middle classes, has
its serious side. Although all may be well with England
(except when there is a general strike or an abdication
or some other piece of un-Englishness) Punch is well
aware that Europe is in a troubled state, and that an
intelligent interest must be shown in our comparatively
But alas . . . somehow the cartoonists seem to have
lost their cunning. Tenniel must be sleeping uneasily
in his grave when he sees the number of opportunities
they are missing. For as soon as the modern Punch
cartoonist has drawn a plump Britannia, stuck her on
a rock with a lot of clouds at her back, placed a trident
in her hand and made her exclaim * Watchman, what
of the night ?* his comments upon the European situa-
tion seem to be exhausted. Of course, Britannia is not
always left stuck on top of her rock. The cartoonists
have several other positions into which, with an effort,
they can put her. They can, for instance, make her sit
down upon the rock, from which vantage point she
usually sternly regards either Hitler, Mussolini, or
Stalin. To these persons she often says something very
sharp and to the point, like . . . *I should believe more
in your peaceful pretensions, gentlemen, if you would
stop pointing that gun in my face/ Very original and
penetrating, you will agree. We hope it makes the dic-
tators sit up.
Sometimes Britannia steps off the stage to reappear
dressed up as the League of Nations, or Peace. You can
always tell which is which. If it is the League she has a
hat on her head bearing the word * Geneva*. If it is
Peace she has a very fat dove on her left shoulder. The
dove is chewing a piece of vegetation which, at first
sight, appears to be parsley but proves, on closer in-
spection, to be a sprig of olive. Whenever she is dressed
NEWS OF ENGLAND
up in these clothes, the clouds over her head are very
dark indeed, and Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin are given
particularly evil expressions, and, if possible, double
chins. But she is not deterred, and in spite of the men-
acing situation, she always manages to say something
inspired, such as: *I should be happier, gentlemen, if
you would stop quarrelling, and let me say a few words
for a minute/ It must be very tiring indeed for the
Punch cartoonists to have to produce such master-
pieces, week after week.
Well, there we are. If Punch should ever do me the
honour of caricaturing me, I am sure that I too shall
have an evil expression and a double chin. In the hope
that I may soften the pen of the caricaturist I hasten
to add that nobody is more fully aware than I am that
the sentiments expressed in this chapter are extreme.
There are still delightful things to be found in Punch.
The drawings of Belcher and Fougasse and Bateman,
the wit of A.P.H. and many others. But I shall never
forgive Punch for its * joke * about the temporary gentle-
man, which is still, in various forms and disguises, its
most popular theme of humour. And since this joke is
typical of the mentality of the sleepy, snobbish middle
class of England, I am afraid that we must admit that
the light relief, for which we hoped in this chapter, is
still a long way off.
Perhaps we shall find it in Society itself? For Punch,
which is on Society's side, is unlikely to see the really
funny aspects of it. Perhaps we, who are on nobody's
side, may be more fortunate,
At any rate, there will be no harm in trying.
YOU WISH to gauge the extent of the revolution
which, within living memory, has swept away all the
landmarks of what was once known as 'society 7 , you
have only to compare the pages of any Victorian novel
with the advertisement section of any modern magazine.
In the former you will find constant sneering refer-
ences to persons who had something to do with 'trade'.
In the latter you will find the photographs of practically
every living peeress advertising a popular beautifier.
Personally, I think the change is all to the good.
Any man of spirit who was forced to listen to those
Victorian sneers must have been tempted to retort,
somewhat hotly, that it was better to live on one's own
honest efforts than on the proceeds of the burglaries of
one's ancestors . . . for a considerable proportion of the
most ancient British fortunes was founded on plain
Besides, the spectacle of a long procession of plain
women, with coronets on their heads, blandly informing
NEWS OF E NGLANO
us that they owe their dazzling complexions to X's
beautifier is, to me, a never-failing delight. In a number
of cases it would pay the advertisers to get them to say
that they never did use X's beautifier. Which, of course,
they never do. I often wonder what their maids must
think, when they compare their mistresses' statements
in the magazine with the array of expensive creams,
astringent lotions, powders and maquillage which they
have to tidy up every night.
Peeresses, and daughters of peeresses, are so cheap
nowadays that they are beginning to lose their adver-
tising value. About ten years ago a more or less un-
spotted countess would be worth about a thousand
pounds, if she could be persuaded to go the whole hog,
i.e. to be photographed with the family jewels (or at
least a borrowed collection that looked like family
jewels) and to proclaim, as blatantly as possible, that
X's beautifier was essential before (and after) being
presented at Court, riding with the Quorn, attending
the opening of Parliament, and doing all the other un-
enviable things which, it is assumed, are the chief
pleasures of countesses.
To-day she would be lucky if she got two hundred
guineas. She would have to wear a very large tiara
indeed, and say that she did everything with the goods
except eat them.
Although the eagerness of a lot of silly women to tell
a lot of silly lies to a lot of silly people is, admittedly, a
subject upon which it might not seem elevating for us
to dwell too long, it is nevertheless important to the
student of national psychology. For this reason.
About ten years ago it was still the fashion for these
women to tell one that they gave all the money which
they received from the advertisers to their favourite
To-day, they seldom make any pretence that the
money is going to anybody but themselves. In some
cases, they deserve our respect. A woman of very ex-
ceptional position, one of the few who was still in a posi-
tion to charge thousands of pounds for her name, told
me that she hated the whole thing but that she saw no
other way of paying for the education of her sons.
The majority of the others are not entitled to so much
sympathy. * Everybody does it, so why shouldn't I?
Besides, I want a mink coat/ That seems to be the pre-
The modern word for this pose is 'hard-boiled', and
since it is a new pose, and looks as though it might well
become a permanent one, we will examine it in greater
It is really an American importation. You must not
wear your heart on your sleeve, though you are at
liberty to wear your liver. You must not express any
obvious emotions in public. For instance, if you have
a baby (to which you are just as devoted as any Vic-
torian mother) you must refer to it as a hideous little
brat. You still talk, quite openly, about Ann who is
having an e affaire * with Anthony, but instead of saying,
as the Bright Young People used to say, that it was
NEWS OF ENGLAND
all too marvellous, you must say that it's all very
Nothing matters very much. The whole mood has
been toned down. A wash of grey has been painted over
the picture. The other day I received a letter from a
young woman of considerable culture and taste who
has just visited the Giotto Chapel at Padua. *I thought
it was pretty good,' she said. That represents the highest
transports which are permissible. Ten years ago the
same sort of young woman would have covered pages
No, nothing matters. You don't get very angry, you
don't get very excited. A little while ago, when your
waiter spilt the wine, you screamed 'What gehenna!*
To-day you merely mutter a few oaths.
Language, of course, grows daily worse. If you want
to hear very bad language, in modern England, you
must go to the class which, in American society maga-
zines, is described as the ' younger married set'. Here,
particularly among the women, you will be regaled by
words and phrases which are traditionally associated
with the more alcoholic moments of the Thames bargee.
These words and phrases are delivered with perfect
nonchalance, and are no longer considered even daring.
I dislike them, not only because beautiful women
should either try to say beautiful things, *or stay for
ever mute 5 , but also because bad language is bad for
the language. The constant employment of denigratory
superlatives will inevitably blur the finer subtleties of
speech . . . and if that sounds like Doctor Johnson, it
cannot be helped.
I know one woman with a mind of curious innocence,
who, it would appear, was born blaspheming. In a quiet,
appealing voice, she swears like a Regency rake, and
because I am very fond of her, she shall be acquitted of
But not the others. Not the soft-lipped creatures who,
on being asked after their health, reply that they are
feeling rather bloody, thank you so much. Not the
orchidaceous, antennae-eyebrowed, milk-skinned little
ones who describe every woman who is not an intimate
friend (and every other woman who is), as a bitch.
These two words, which, having once been written, will
not reappear in these pages, are the commonplaces of
young English society. And some of us think that it is
If you wish to judge the extent to which smart young
England has adopted the hard-boiled pose of smart
young America (or perhaps it would be more accurate
to say smart young New York), you have only to search
your cupboard for an old gramophone record of Noel
Coward's famous song, 'Dance, dance, dance little
lady'. Put it on, stand back, shut your eyes and listen.
From what immense distances do those words seem
to drift! How grotesque, how pathetically * period'
appears the morality which prompted such sentiments.
Dance, dance, dance little lady,
Youth is fleeting
To the rhythm beating
In your mind . . .
The modern reply to that observation is 'Oh yeah? 5
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Dance, dance, dance little lady,
No rest you'll ever find.
The modern reply to that observation is 'So what ? s
That song, if sung to-day, would embarrass us as
much as if a Salvation Army preacher were to rise up
in the middle of the floor of the Cafe de Paris and de-
liver a harangue against the lyrics of Mr. Douglas Byng
or Mr. Dwight Fiske,
Not because the little lady had ceased to dance.
She is dancing more madly than ever. Nor because there
was anything wrong with Mr. Coward's lyric, in 1928
or in 1938. It expresses, with economy and punch, a
sincere moral emotion.
No . . . the only reason that this lyric appears, to-day,
to be so 'shymaking', (to use a phrase which dates from
a later, but even more defunct period), is because we
can't be bothered. We have been through too much.
We are too tired. 'The whole thing's going to crash,
anyway ... so what's the use?'
As a result of this attitude, life has become far more
casual. For my own interest, if not for yours, I have
jotted down a few of the changes which have come over
We smoke with our meals, in the American fashion.
And we do not smoke Turkish cigarettes, we smoke
stinkers, or American Chesterfield or Camels, which are
placed in little jade bowls in front of us. It would seem
very odd not to see those little jade bowls, and it would
also seem very odd, in a modern dining-room, to ask
one's hostess permission to smoke. Almost as strange,
as olde worlde, as standing up in a tube to offer a
woman a seat.
We come in to lunch as if we are of the female sex,
with or without our hats, and we can leave when we
want. It is becoming more and more fashionable for the
hostess to be later than the guests. This is very pleasant
for the hostess, but it is infuriating for the guests.
'Her ladyship is not down yet', whispers the butler.
And then he precipitates you into a large, ill-lit room,
where three women in black are standing by the mantel-
piece, drinking sherry.
We have lost much of our insularity. We are more
European. Our favourite country, of course, is Austria.
This is largely due to the charm and energy of that
brilliant man Baron Franckenstein, the Austrian
Minister. He has such an understanding of the English
character, such a flair for giving parties, that he has
put Austria on the map almost as successfully as the
powers at Versailles took it off. 1 Most of us speak a little
German, with a Viennese accent. We like saying simple
adjectives like 'gemiitlich', and it prides us when we
say *ja', to give it the wienerisch twist ... a mixture
between f jaw' and *je*.
We are not so interested in * decoration' as we used
to be, ten years ago. Before the crash there was a num-
ber of women, more or less in * society', who made
fortunes by selling furniture at ridiculous prices and
putting it in ridiculous places. If you were a smart,
energetic woman, and if you had lots of rich friends,
and an elementary sense of colour and design, you could
*And as Hitler, as this book goes to press, appears to be taking it off once
NEWS OF ENGLAND
'clean up 5 quite quickly. You 'cleaned up" not only
metaphorically but literally, because the recognized
formula for decoration was to strip all the wails of their
mouldings, whether they were good or bad, to plunge
every piece of furniture within reach into a bath of
pickling acid, to instal one or two enormous sofas in
white leather, to arrange a few old mirrors which made
you think you had leprosy when you looked into them,
and then to send in the bill.
People are not led so easily by the nose to-day. The
amateur decorators are in a bad way. They have to work
for their money.
It is not an inspiring picture, is it? It is not shocking,
it is merely rather dull It has none of that vivid colour
to which we were accustomed in the spangled days of
the Bright Young People. It is pathetic to recall those
people to-day. A number of them are prematurely dead.
Most of the survivors are prematurely aged. A few have
pulled themselves together and made good. They now
lead lives of fierce respectability in the Midlands, as
though they were trying to make up for lost time.
Let us look back on them for a moment, over the im-
mense distance of ten years. It will show us how far
we have left them behind. You will observe that I do
not say 'progressed '.
Their glitter has faded, their laughter echoes very
thin, and only one quality stands out, with startling
vividness, their vulgarity. It is astonishing that nobody,
in those days, appeared to notice this quality. The
Bright Young People were condemned because they
were, in the eyes of the British public, extravagant and
perverse. But nobody condemned them for the most
obvious reason of all ... that they were exceedingly
There is existent, in the magazines of this remote
period, a photograph showing a number of the Bright
Young People standing at Hyde Park Corner, in the
small hours of the morning, with a group of workmen
who were repairing the road. The Bright Young People
had just come from a fancy dress party, and very
exquisite and gay they looked. The gas flares lit up their
silver wigs and their satin dresses. It also lit up the
grimy overalls, the pale faces of the workmen, who
stared at these exotic visions as though they had just
emerged from Fairyland. The Bright Young People
thought it was * terribly amusing' to talk to these
rough men, and since they adored publicity, they made
sure that there was a permanent record of their amuse-
ment. The picture obtained even more publicity than
they had hoped. The Bright Young People described it,
in that dead language of the twenties, as 'too divine'.
The British public at large looked very closely at it, and
said it was 'shimefar. But nobody, not even the har-
assed parents of those concerned, objected to it because
of its appalling vulgarity.
Vulgarity can cause revolutions. As soon as gentle-
men cease to behave like gentlemen there is no reason
for the existence of gentlemen. And when there is no
reason for a creature's existence, in Nature or in Society,
that creature is doomed. The aristocrats of France, in
1788, who rattled so arrogantly through the cobbled
streets of their villages, were not only giving an exhibi-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
tion of cruelty and of oppression. They were giving an
exhibition of a far more dangerous vice . . . vulgarity.
There is not so much of that sort of vulgarity about
to-day, for to be really vulgar you have to be excited
about something. The vulgar woman in the charabanc
is the one who is enjoying herself and, in consequence,
throws banana skins at her neighbour and makes rude
sounds at the passers-by. The genteel woman, in the
same conveyance, is the one who removes the banana
skin from her lap with pained surprise, and draws in
her breath with a refined hiss.
Society having emerged from its charabanc seems
now to be sitting down by the side of the road, longing
for something to do. To those of us who know how much
there is to do, and how, in certain Continental countries,
the upper classes have taken off their coats, mingled
with the workers and got down to the job of doing it,
there is something almost frightening in the thought
that so large a section of English ' society* should think
that their responsibilities begin and end with a gala
night at a cinema, or a pageant *in aid of something or
other* at a Mayfair hotel.
Needless to say there are exceptions. There are
women who work really hard in the East End, There are
young men who run boys' clubs when they would very-
much rather be dancing. There are still plenty of
'paternal* squires, scattered over England, who realize
that they have a duty to their tenants as well as to
themselves. And of course there is always Lord Nuffield.
But these are, I repeat, exceptions. The majority of
English society people think that the most which can
be expected of them, in these days of social unrest, is
that they should give a party, charge rather more for
the champagne than usual, and hand over the surplus
(if any) to some cause whose name they cannot even
To my mind there is something revolting about the
following paragraph which is typical of a number which
I have collected concerning the activities of these
people. * "I'm ordering a heavenly dress from S , simply
plastered with paillettes" she told me, when I asked her
what role she was going to adopt in the Pageant. "Of course
it's terribly expensive . . . but then it is such a good cause,
don't you think?" 3
There would have been no reason to single it out for
special notice (for every morning and evening newspaper
considers it vital to print a page of this nonsense in
every issue) were it not for the fact that the sentences
in italics sum up, with merciless accuracy, the attitude
of so many people towards the problems of the country.
'There is a great deal of "malnutrition" among the
children of Wales ? Oh dear, oh dear, how terrible, we
must give a party for them at once. Well, not exactly
for them ... I mean ... it would be terribly embarrass-
ing to have a lot of gawky children trooping into the
hall at Claridge's ... I mean . . . don't you think ? No,
we must give a party for ourselves, don't you think? . . .
I mean . , . and charge everybody three guineas . . .
of course if we're going to act and work ourselves to
the bone, I mean, they won't expect us to buy tickets
. . . but there are hundreds of dreary people who will,
don't you think?'
NEWS OF ENGLAND
If you have never taken part in one of these pageants
it might amuse you to do so now.
It starts with a cocktail party at the house of a woman
whom we will call Mrs. Starch. Mrs. S. never appears in
a gossip paragraph without the prefix f indefatigable'.
She has gone through her list of professional pageant-
eers. They are mostly young married women, of reason-
ably ancient family, who have walked down miles and
miles of staircases, at Claridge's, and the Dorchester
and the Mayfair and such places, wearing a little less
than usual in the faint hope that the miners' children
will soon be wearing a little more than usual. They have
also stood very still against curtains, for a period which
seems centuries (to the audience) disguised as 'Lady
Hamilton', 'A Bacchante' (after Botticelli), 'Dawn'
(diamond clips kindly lent by Messrs. Carrier), and
*Jeune Fille' (with apologies to Marie Laurencin).
There is something curiously old-fashioned about the
roles usually adopted by these young women. Nobody,
as far as I am aware, has yet interpreted any of the
works of Dali, whose painting of a lady sitting in a bath
with a mutton chop on her head was considered such a
tender piece of poetry at a recent Surrealist exhibition.
Well, here they all are, at six o'clock, in Ella Starch's
music-room, with the clipped skeepskin rugs and the
alabaster lighting and the pickled piano and the even
more pickled footman. Some with hats, some without,
some with real pearls, some with false, most of them in
black. Their conversation (as always, when women are
gathered together) is addressed to the interior of their
hand-bags, because they haven't had time to do up
their faces all day.
'It's madness to have Gladys as Venus. She's a pro-
fessional and she makes everybody else look like death. 3
'Why couldn't Noel write us a sort of anthem?'
*My dear, she won't sing a note for less than two
hundred guineas, if it's a really good cause/
'Don't give him a chance to wear any feathers this
And so on, and so on. After a number of these re-
unions, the public are informed, through the press, of
the delights that await them. Rehearsals begin. Over-
worked professionals are cajoled to act as producers and
spend hours of time which they can ill afford trying to
teach the pageanteers how to walk downstairs without
falling over. At each rehearsal half of the pageanteers are
absent . . . they are detained at a party, they thought
it was another day, they are ill, they are sure they are
going to have a baby, they know their part backwards,
there is a fog in Westminster. . . . But eventually the
day arrives. And after an expenditure, by themselves
and by the public, of something like 10,000, at least
half of this sum will eventually find its way to the
We are not an ungenerous people. Nor are we a
callous people. As one who in the past has lent his name
to charitable appeals, I can vouch for the vast reserves
of kindliness which lie deep in the heart of the nation.
But though we are not ungenerous, we are, to a de-
plorable degree, unimaginative. We do not even begin
to see the vulgarity of these highly advertised society
pageants, which provide the illustrated weeklies with
so large a proportion of their copy.
It is not only that Lady X looks exceedingly foolish,
stalking across a ballroom in the small hours of the
morning, wearing little more than a self-conscious
NEWS OF ENGLAND
simper, in the fond illusion that she is interpreting
Cleopatra. It is not only that her part would be played,
with far more grace and dignity, by any mannequin
earning three guineas a week. The vulgarity does not
consist in the act itself, though that, heaven knows, is
sufficiently humourless and ostentatious. It is the
thought, or rather the lack of thought . . . behind the
act, that is so deplorable.
Lady X, before she dazzles us, for this brief moment,
on the slippery ballroom floor, has been consuming cock-
tails for weeks, in order to decide the precise degree of
dazzlement to which we are to be entitled. She has also
consumed a great deal of petrol, motoring to the dress-
makers, to the hairdressers, to the beauty parlours, to
the organizers. She has put through a quantity of
telephone calls, driven her secretary crazy, sworn at
her masseuse. She has written, or will eventually write,
a large cheque in payment for her dress. And she has
consumed, or will eventually consume, a substantial
ration of champagne in order to enable her to recover
from her ordeal.
Wouldn't it have been better if Lady X had stayed
at home, and sent all that money to the people who
really needed it ?
Wouldn't it be better, in fact, if she and her sisters
woke up, and realized that you can't stop the eruption
of a volcano by dancing on its edge ?
ABOUT NOON on the morning of the Ascot Gold
Cup last year, the proprietor of a large second-hand
tailor's shop in London looked up from his ledger with
an expression of great satisfaction, and said :
'One hundred and eighty-seven!'
'One hundred and eighty-seven what?' asked his
partner. He spoke a little snappily, for he would have
liked to have gone to the races too.
'One hundred and eighty-seven morning-coats, hired
for the day by the nobility and gentry of England!'
'That's thirty more than last year.'
'Thirty-two,' corrected the proprietor, 'If it goes on
like this we shall soon be dressing the whole of the Royal
Enclosure. Boy . . . it's a social revolution.'
He was not exaggerating. For though these figures are
probably larger than those of any other firm, there are
at least a dozen similar establishments, scattered over
London. And they were all besieged, last Gold Cup day,
This sudden excursion into the realm of tailoring is
NEWS OF ENGLAND
not as irrelevant as it sounds. You can learn a great deal
from the way in which the people of a country dress.
The lederhosen of the Hitler Jugend are as significant
as the Schiaparelli uniforms of the Moscow maidens.
And in England, the country which has set the standard
of masculine elegance for over a hundred years, we
ought to be able to draw some very interesting deduc-
tions by a visit to our tailors, if we keep our eyes and
our ears open.
It was with this object, therefore, that I wandered
down Bond Street one golden October morning. The
flower-shops were full of gigantic chrysanthemums, rust-
coloured, tawny, and yellow. The provision-stores dis-
played quantities of fascinating indigestibilities in their
windows . . . truffes de Perigord, scarlet cocks* combs
bottled in white wine, avocado pears the size of small
footballs, caviare in buckets. The jewellers were on
fire with all the latest clips, bracelets and brooches.
Never was there a morning when it was so difficult to
resist buying a new cigarette case. They sparkled on
their velvet trays in white gold and yellow gold and
platinum, faintly effeminate, altogether desirable. As a
result of a great deal of nose-pressing against the plate-
glass I arrived at my tailor's when most of his clients
were at lunch, and so I had him to myself.
'How many morning-coats did you make last Ascot,*
I asked him, 'for the nobility and gentry of England?'
He blew down an antique tube, from which dust came
in clouds, sneezed, and made the inquiry.
'Five/ he said, hanging up the tube. 'And they
weren't for the nobility and gentry of England, either/
He shook his head. 'No, sir. Three were for Americans,
and two were for Argentines/
FINE FEATHE RS
'How many would you have made in the old days?'
'At least forty/
' Trade bad?'
'Bad?' He raised his eyebrows. 'Bad? It's immense.
We're turning people away. But the morning-coat is
'The Duke of Windsor. He killed it.' He shook his
head again. 'He killed it. Stone dead/
He spoke as though the morning-coat were some
large and amiable animal which had been callously
slaughtered by the Duke of Windsor.
'It was at a luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel,
about ten years ago/ he went on. 'All the City big-wigs
were there, in their morning-coats. It was a very hot
day, and the Duke of Windsor arrived in a lounge-suit.
Very sensible of him, of course, but still . . . after that,
things were never the same.'
He sighed, and stroked a roll of beautiful Harris
tweed. 'If we go on like this,' he said, 'the only time
you'll ever see a morning-coat will be stuffed, in a glass
case, next to a suit of armour.'
It all fits in very well with the various signs of in-
creasing casualness which we noted in our recent exam-
ination of modern English society.
For instance, I learned from my tailor that seventy-
five per cent of the best modern dinner jackets are
double-breasted. This may sound a news-item of almost
unbearable triviality to a large number of the popula-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
tion, but news is trivial only if you choose to make it so.
For the double-breasted dinner jacket is yet another
of the multitudinous signs that in these days we are
too tired to bother. You can wear a soft shirt, with
collar attached, when you have on a double-breasted
dinner jacket. You doh't have to indulge, any longer,
in that exhausting struggle with your dress-studs. That
is reserved for the occasions when you have to wear
tails . . . occasions which are slowly but surely dimin-
Another thing which I learn from my tailor is that the
credit system is rapidly dying. I am not so determined
to depreciate my countrymen's morality as to suggest
that this is a sinister sign of national decadence. It is,
however, a very definite sign that the nobility and
gentry are no longer regarded as of such vital impor-
tance as they used to be ... at least by the trades-
people. There was a time when a noble earl was given
an infinite amount of rope. He was often allowed to die
and to be respectably buried before anything was done
about his bill. To-day things are very different. All the
tradespeople have black-lists, and a surprising number
of members of the Upper House appear in them.
This is really a much greater revolution than most
foreigners would imagine. Even in my day, at Oxford,
one never dreamt of paying one's tailor's bill while one
was still at the university. It was not till nearly three
years afterwards that I settled my own account. Life
had taught me that credit does not pay. However, when
I asked my first London tailor if he allowed ten per
cent off for cash, he looked very pained indeed. *I be-
lieve there is some er arrangement to that effect,
sir/ he observed, as he drew off my trousers.
'In that case, would you send me the bill at once?'
'The bill?* He paused, regarding the trousers which
hung over his arm as though they were covered with a
faint but unmistakable slime. 'The bill?* he repeated.
Then, with a great effort, he pulled himself together,
murmured something about 'seeing to it', and staggered
out of the room, leaving me to put on the rest of my
It was quite evident that he had never mentioned the
word 'bill' before, at any rate in the presence of gentle-
men. It was not a word which gentlemen were accus-
tomed to hear.
But they are accustomed to hear it, plainly enough,
to-day. It is true that if you were to walk into a first-
class tailor's this morning you might not at first notice
any difference from the pre-war era. There are still the
same faded notices announcing the dates of levees,
courts, and balls. There are still the same colour-prints
of gentlemen of exquisite elegance emerging on the
steps of White's Club, bent on giving Piccadilly a treat.
There are still, on odd shelves, the same boxes dis-
creetly addressed to His Grace the Duke of This and
His Royal Highness the Maharajah of That. (I have
yet to see anybody leave parcels about addressed to
me.) But although these things remain as they have
always been, for generations, you will also observe,
tucked away in dark corners, little notices to the effect
that gentlemen who are beginning new accounts are
respectfully requested either to furnish satisfactory
references or to provide a deposit of 5.
A deposit of 5! Members of the old guard, reading
that notice for the first time, must have experienced
feelings not unlike those of the French aristocracy,
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reading the first proclamations of Camille Desmoulins
in the colonnades of the Palais Royal They must have
said : 'This is the beginning of the end/ And maybe they
Yet another revolution awaits us. And this time, I am
thankful to say, we can chronicle a renaissance instead
of mourning a decline.
As everybody knows, the men of the world have
always looked to London to learn what they should
wear. But the women of the world have always looked
It may be news to the great majority of my country-
men that London is rapidly rivalling Paris as a centre
of feminine fashion. And as far as I know, they may
not care very much about it. The English press cer-
tainly doesn't. Although the English designers are
creating the styles and setting the paces, the newspapers
still splash the word * Paris' all over their women's
pages. It is always 'What Paris will wear this summer*,
* Paris decrees black ', * Paris says spots'. And so on.
It is very hard to understand. After all, this business
of dressing women is one which occupies a great deal
of the attention of the world. Men go down into mines,
dive under the sea, scale mountains, sweat blood . . ,
all in the service of my lady's dress. It is to be presumed
that more than one war has, directly or indirectly, been
fought over this same flimsy pretext* (A piece of chiffon
is as good a reason as any other for blowing out the
brains of a decent young man.) And so, it seems to me
to be important. And as it is going to be a great deal
more important, it may be worth while to study the
personality of the young man who has given the English
trade such an extraordinary boost and the French trade
such an unpleasant shock.
About fifteen years ago a boy with eyes of Cambridge
blue bumped into me at a party and asked me if I knew
any nice women.
'What do you mean by nice?'
'Rich/ he said. Just like that.
I observed him with disapproval. I naturally assumed
that he wished to become a gigolo. Times were so bad
that this was a profession which, it was rumoured, was
shortly to be officially recognized by the universities.
'Why do you want to know rich women?'
*I want to design dresses for them/
*Oh, I see/ I mentally apologized. 'Can you design
*Come and see/
I followed him, with reluctance, into a bedroom filled
with people's hats and coats. He delved under a chair
and produced a portfolio. I sighed. It was going to be
depressing. Excited scrawls in pink crayon on heavy
grey paper. Smudgy washes of water colour, picked out
in gold. That was what it was going to be. Bits of Bakst,
and still more bits of Bakst. All impossible, from a
practical point of view.
And one would have to smile and say *Oh yes . * I
like that touch of green . . . yes . . . that's very amusing
. . . yes, I see ... what, more? Haven 9 1 you been busy!'
But it wasn't like that. For to my surprise, the young
man could draw. And he had a charming sense of colour,
and a great fertility of invention. Also, most important
of all, the dullest dressmaker could have seen, to the
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last button, how the design was to be transformed into
"They're very good/ I said.
*Yes/ he replied, 'they are/
"All the same, I only know one rich woman/
'I'd better take her telephone number now, in case
' She's unusually odious/
He made no comment, but waited politely, crayon in
hand, for the telephone number.
This was a young man after my own heart. If any-
thing was certain, in the swirling 'twenties, it was that
he would get on.
He did get on.
He got a job at 3 a week.
That job led to another . . . and another.
He started on his own. He obtained no outside capital.
He co-operated with no other designer. Every detail of
every dress he has ever sold has been traced by his own
pencil. And to-day, apart from such minor tokens of
success as paying a personal income tax of 20,000 a
year, he dresses everybody from the Queen of England
downwards, and he employs five hundred people on his
Mayfair premises alone. Since this is a very much
larger business than any similar house in Paris, and
since it has encouraged other English houses to make
assaults on the American market, with considerable
success, it is not surprising that the French are sitting
up and taking notice.
His name, by the way, is Norman Hartnell.
Let us pay a visit to one of his parades in Bruton
Street. It is worth doing, if only for the reason that we
could not possibly have done it at any previous time in
London's history. We are doing something completely
The walls are the colour of clay, heavily mirrored.
Great chandeliers twinkle in the sad sunlight of May-
fair. The atmosphere has a delicate reek of Turkish
cigarette smoke and many perfumes.
Round the walls, on gold chairs, sit the women who
have come to buy. About two hundred of them. Rows of
silk legs, rows of scarlet mouths, rows of black hats,
stuck on sideways. They do not often speak.
They look very earnest. And some have every need to
look earnest, for nothing that they could do to their
figures could possibly make them desirable.
Why do such women come to dress-shows at all?
Why do they not go about in nice big black shawls?
Why do they try to compete? These are the questions
I always ask at dress-shows. And if they sound cruel,
they are only prompted by the conviction that such
women must suffer tortures by this incessant struggle
with the elementary forces of nature.
So why? What are their illusions? What, for example,
can be passing through the mind of that middle-aged
woman opposite? She is what is known as 'out' size.
A very long way out, too. She has short legs, no neck,
and a mouth like a small, enraged limpet. Her sit-upon
is of the sort which defies camouflage. Yet she is making
all sorts of frenzied notes about the dress which is
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passing by ... a green dress that is worn by a girl like
a lily. It clings to the slim figure of the mannequin as
leaves cling to a flower. On the lady with the sit-upon
it would look like the wrapping round a bulky parcel.
Yet she continues to make notes.
However, such questions are distracting us from the
Let us look at them. They are the sort of dresses that
might inspire such purple passages that we had better
assume that we have looked, before it is too late. We
had better leave the parade and pay a visit to the work-
rooms. For it is there that we shall find the people who
Not only do we find the people who really matter.
We find a skill, a devotion to detail, that had passed, we
thought, from this mechanical world.
Consider the preparation of the stuff for one of those
dresses we saw downstairs. (Its decoration had obvi-
ously been inspired from some of the earlier mouldings
of the Adam brothers.)
Here on a sheet of silk are being traced the ghosts of
silver flowers. A sequin falls, light fingers guide it, there
is the flash of a needle, and it rests in place, like a tiny
dewdrop. The sequins continue to fall, and are captured
by threads as delicate as cobwebs. And as you watch,
the petals slowly grow, and shine before you, till at the
end of half an hour there is the outline of a silver rose
... a rose of the frost, with the last flush of summer
glowing in the silk beneath.
'This dress has 80,000 paillettes/ says the woman by
A paillette, I learn, is a sequin whose edges curve in-
'And each paillette needs two stitches to keep it in
place/ she adds.
In other words, a girl has to stitch 160,000 times in
order to create those few flowers, which may only glitter
for a few moments down some brilliant staircase.
This is the sort of fact which, in Labour journals, is
used as very telling propaganda against the rich. A pic-
ture is drawn of sweated maidens, ruining their health
and their eyesight, in order to adorn the pampered
bodies of millionaires' mistresses.
It did not affect me that way. For several reasons:
(a) Because the maidens were highly paid, blooming,
and obviously very pleased with life.
(b) Because this particular dress, at any rate, was
going to be worn by a film star who happens to work
like a horse.
(c) Because . . . well, for rather a subtler reason.
Because there is something rather beautiful in the
thought that the world is still being given fabrics so
precious, work so fine. Because it increases a woman's
respect for her own hands to realize that, after all, they
are more sensitive and valuable than any machine.
.T MAY SEEM UNFORTUNATE, to the old-school-tie
brigade, that the only hero who has yet emerged from
our survey of modern England should be a dress-
There was a time when I would have suggested that
this was all to the good, when I would have found it
hard to resist the temptation to observe that it is surely
more civilized to drape a shawl over a woman's shoul-
ders than to engage in activities which must eventually
end in drawing a shroud over her face.
'Sister Susie's sewing shirts for soldiers' was a dirge
which I would willingly forget. It haunted my school-
days. It would be much more pleasant to dilate upon
the comparative prettiness of the paillettes which Susie
is sewing to-day.
But though it might be more pleasant, it would not
get us very far. Therefore the figure of the dress-designer
(of whom I am personally very fond) throws a shadow
over these pages, instead of lighting them with his own
gaiety. He becomes a symbol.
He becomes a symbol of softness.
Still we must do the best with what we possess. And
after all, if it is England's destiny to become a little
nation, whose people engage themselves in entertaining
the world rather than in ruling it, we may find, in the
long run, that it is a much pleasanter country to live in.
The transition may be painful, of course, but when it
is accomplished we shall at least be able to relax, after
all these centuries of struggle, and sit back in our faded
stalls, in our ancient dress-suits. We shall be able to
content ourselves with watching mimic dramas, while
the real dramas of the world are played out by other
nations, on stages so distant that the echo of their strife
hardly reaches us.
In these circumstances, it behoves us to salute the
hero of the English future. And I think we shall not be
far wrong if we decide that he will be either a film star
or a ballet dancer. It is surely not quite without meaning
that the greatest new English industry which has grown
up in the past ten years, is the cinema industry. While
agriculture slowly dies, while civil aviation staggers
from failure to failure, the cinema marches triumphantly
Nor again is it without meaning that the one place in
modern London where you will discover enthusiasm so
intense that it borders on hysteria is the ballet at Sad-
No statesman, no sportsman, no philanthropist, no
scientist, no demagogue nor any popular English figure
ever receives a fraction of the applause which, like a
wave of sound surging from floor to roof, rocks the
auditorium as the figures of the ballet sway forward
to take their bows.
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We should be churlish if we grudged the dancers their
success. They are among the most charming people in
the world, and at least they have created something
which is very much alive.
I make no apologies for asking you to pay them a
visit. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that they are
probably the most energetic people whom we shall en-
counter in modern England.
Edmund Kean, sword in hand, richly caparisoned in
the robes of Richard III, stares down from the wall in
Can this really be the ancient theatre of Sadler's
Wells? A hundred years ago, by the light of the gas
flares, he used to hold audiences spellbound in it. But
now, it is so tall, so immense, so new.
And what is going on below him? Who are these
young women in their black knitted tights and these
young men in shorts, who are performing such angular
and uncomfortable evolutions? Actors? Obviously not.
Dancers? An uncomfortable suspicion enters Kean's
head that this may be some form of ballet, but really,
it is so strange. In Sadler's Wells of all places!
Kean is right. A few years ago a scene like this could
not have been found in England. You could have dis-
covered ballet rehearsals, of course ... for ever since
Nijinski leapt out of the East, in 1912, and landed on
the stage of the old Alhambra in a shower of golden
stars, England has been ballet-conscious. That is to
say England has paid homage to the quantities of ladies
DIVE RTI SS EMENT
whose names end in 'ova' and to quantities of gentle-
men whose names end in 'ski '. But the idea that English
people could dance, and dance superbly, was too absurd
The very phrase 'British Ballet' seemed a contradic-
tion in terms. It suggested dairy-maids panting round
a Maypole and fairy queens angrily waving tinselly
wands at all and sundry. It suggested a great deal of
bouncing, and confusion and heat, to the inevitable
accompaniment of Mr. Edward German's dirge-like
refrains from Merrie England.
It is, for example, entirely new that a permanent
British ballet has gone to Paris (as the Sadler's Wells
Company went last year), to be received with rapturous
notices by critics who had come with the full intention
of being rude.
It is, again, entirely new that a tradition comparable
with the glamorous traditions of old St. Petersburg
should be associated with British ballet. But at Sadler's
Wells these traditions are slowly springing up. For in-
stance, that in the ballet 'Apparitions' there is never
any applause till the end, and woe betide the newcomer
who breaks this rule. The silent house freezes him.
There are traditions about dressing-rooms, about lucky
nights and unlucky nights. There are traditions about
members of the audience . . . about little old Miss B.,
who has attended every performance since the ballet
was born, and always drifts vaguely to the dancers at
the stage door with: 'Thank you, dears, for so much
It is again, entirely new that English aristocrats like
Lord Berners and the Sitwells (who are artists first and
aristocrats second) should devote their genius to writing
NEWS OF ENGLAND
the music and composing the themes of ballets. Entirely
new that on a ballet first-night in this theatre of poorer
London, ladies plastered with paillettes and reeking of
Schiaparelli No. 8ab should be delighted to scramble
for five-shilling seats, and, which is even more astonish-
ing, should show an intelligent interest in the proceed-
ings, and never once observe how quaint it is to go to
Let us therefore examine more closely the rehearsal
which was bringing such a puzzled look on to the face of
The first thing to notice is that the whole company is
The ballet mistress laughs. The accompanist laughs.
The choreographer laughs. The boys and girls laugh. If
you have ever watched a rehearsal of Russian ballet,
where everything is deadly serious, and where the smile
of the prima ballerina is as warm as the gleam of moon-
light on a grave, those high spirits are all the more re-
They also remind us that one of the things which the
English spirit can contribute, and is contributing, to the
art of ballet, is humour. Not the humour of the Russian,
which, to the Western mind, is permeated with malaise^
but the riotous, animal humour which was expressed,
in the April of England, by Chaucer, and has sparkled
through English art and letters ever since.
That is why a ballet like 'The Rake's Progress 5 could
only have been created in England, because only Eng-
land could have created the Hogarth who inspired it.
DIVE RTIS S EMENT
The purist who thinks that all ballet must be judged by
the standard of which the abstract loveliness of *Les
Sylphides' is the summit, and even that section of the
public whom Diaghileff educated to accept a far wider
interpretation of the word ' ballet', will protest that
'The Rake's Progress 5 is not ballet at all. It is too
'literary'. There is too much acting in it, too little
concentration on pure form. It is therefore bad art.
We may safely leave such criticisms to the verdict
of posterity. But we did not come to Sadler's Wells to
indulge in arguments about the aesthetics of ballet, but
to learn a little more about the inside, and particularly
the personalities, of this new art which has sprung up
I will confine myself to two artists I happen to know
well, Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpman. Frederick
is the finest choreographer that this country has pro-
duced. And though Robert Helpman may not be,
technically, the finest dancer, he is a good deal more
interesting than many who leap into larger print.
I always think of Freddie Ashton against a back-
ground of yellow. For it was he who was responsible for
the choreography of 'Daffodils', a scene from a revue
of mine called Floodlight. This revue, for the startling
period of almost nine weeks, enraptured small but
courageous audiences at the Saville Theatre, London,
in the summer of 1937.
There may be a few laymen of the theatre (though I
doubt if such exist to-day), who wonder, as they sit in
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their stalls, how it all happens. How the music for the
little ballet which they are observing is written, how
the young females before them are gathered together
to interpret it ... and how, when, and above all, why,
it is decided that at a certain juncture they extend their
wrists to the right, and at another juncture they pro-
trude their knee-caps to the left, in co-ordination with a
We will not bother about my end of the business. It
would take far too long to explain why the reading of
Wordsworth's ' Daffodils' suddenly suggested a tune,
and even longer to explain how one eventually got some-
body to listen to it.
So let us go straight to Freddie Ashton.
There he stands, in the barren room, a very ordinary-
looking young man, in a lounge suit, with his young
women in front of him. They wear shorts, trousers, serge
skirts, every sort of costume. He stands there, quite still,
looking towards them, but not seeming to see them.
And then he moves his arm in a sudden curve, and drops
on to his knee, and stares up to the ceiling. Gets up
again. Moves his arm in a wider gesture, drops on to his
knee again, and throws his body back in a pose which,
in spite of the double-breasted suit and all the accoutre-
ments of polite civilization, is somehow beautiful.
Then he gets up, abruptly, and claps his hands, and
shouts ' Music, please !* rather angrily.
'Now follow me!*
The music tinkles. The piano is out of tune. And the
pianist is so rhythmic, that you want to yell. This is not
rhythm but metronomy (if there is such a word), and
each bar is an iron band, fastened with four crotchets
of steel Yet, in spite of it all, something beautiful is
being born. Those waving arms of Freddie's, which the
chorus girls try to follow, those apparently aimless legs,
which trace such apparently purposeless designs, are
nevertheless creating a pattern which is visible in spite
of the uncompromising prose of the surroundings, like
daffodils seen dimly in the distance . . . shining, far
away, through the mist.
Needless to say, the creation of a whole ballet is a task
of far greater intricacy than the arrangement of a single
dance. And it could not be achieved without a deep
sympathy, amounting to intuition, on the part of the
Let us look at one of these dancers, in the person of
young Robert Helpman, who has been the star of so
many Sadler's Wells ballets.
As a small boy he was regarded as a monstrosity. For
here was an infant who not only preferred to dance with
leaves in the wind, when he ought to have been playing
football, but stoutly proclaimed his intention of con-
tinuing to do so when he grew up. This perversion was
all the more regrettable in Adelaide, Australia, than it
might have been in a more sophisticated city. For Ade-
laide, Australia, from my recollection of it, is about the
heartiest town in that very hearty continent, the sort
of town where men catch hold of bulls by the horns as
though they were playing a parlour game.
In spite of this, Master Helpman continued to dance,
pointing his toes, kicking his heels, and replying to all
criticism with an entrechat. The culminating point came
when, still a little boy, he appeared at a school concert
NEWS OF ENGLAND
as a ballerina, and proceeded to dance the pizzicato
in 'Sylvia ', on his points. He did this with such bril-
liance that all the little girls were jealous, and wept to
their mothers that this sort of thing, if allowed to con-
tinue, would set up a dry-rot in Australian youth, which
was probably all too true.
And so it was stopped. No more dancing with leaves
in the wind, not a single entrechat, and above all, no
reference to that deplorable episode of 'Sylvia'. Sup-
posing he wanted to be Prime Minister! What would
the opposition say when they learnt that he had once
worn a ballet skirt? Supposing he wanted to be a gen-
eral! Was it not evident that the morale of the troops
would be ruined if it ever leaked out that their leader
had once stood on his points?
To such arguments he listened. He appeared to agree.
And then, Pavlova came to Adelaide. And Robert
sneaked in to see her, and was lost. True, she was not at
her greatest in that last tour . . . there were moments
when those of us who knew her in the old days would
rather have looked away, moments when a step faltered,
when the winged feet flagged, and the smile, which had
once seemed to spring from the joy of life, was like an
agonized grimace. But Robert did not know that. He
only knew that here was something more lovely than
any bird in flight, a spirit which he could worship, which
he must worship, in the only way that he knew, by
Potted careers are rather boring, so we will skip the
rest. We will merely observe the irony of the fact that his
first leading part, in the ballet of which he was to be-
come the star, was not the role of Sylvia, but that of
the prophet Job,
I have one serious criticism of the new British ballet,
and that is that it is neither sufficiently new nor suffi-
ciently British. It is still too charmed by the discovery
that it can put on as good a 'Sylphides' as any which
drifted before the court of ancient Russia. It has still
to wipe out the last remains of the Russian trade mark
from its ballet shoes, and stand, metaphorically, on its
For surely, the greatest of all choreographers is life
itself. And life to-day is making men and women dance
to a thousand new tunes which the contemporaries of
Taglioni never heard, and would have rejected, had they
heard them. It is forcing them to assume attitudes
which become day by day more grotesque, and thereby
more valuable to the creator of ballet, who seeks to
synthesize these broken rhythms into a pulsating unity.
One has only to travel in an underground railway, for
example, to receive the inspiration for a dozen ballets.
What could be more exciting, more capable of rhythmic
treatment, than a row of strap-hangers? There they
jog and sway, with pale, masked faces, their hands
raised to heaven as though in supplication. Backwards
and forwards to the harsh music of the wheels, strung
up on the gibbet of modern business, with the greens
and yellows and scarlets of the whisky advertisements
What could be stranger, more inspiring, than the
crowds that sweep up and down the giant escalators . . .
like some parody of the Last Judgment, the souls
ascending to heaven and the souls descending to hell?
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Stiff and silent, and expressionless, they stand, in a
hundred weird poses . . . some sternly erect, others
broken with fatigue. And always there are a few (they
are the principals in the ballet) who dart lightly through
the ranks, curving this way and that with astonishing
agility, and leaping off the staircase, at the top, with a
flutter of a mackintosh.
The queues that swarm round the booking office, with
the music of pennies and sixpences, the clang of the
gates and the inevitable late-comer, locked out, like
love, with the harsh shadows of the lift-bars slashed
across her face, the scurry down the spiral staircase, and
always the fierce colours of the advertisements, the
splashes of yellow that announce the birth of the cro-
cuses at Kew, the coral pink of toothpastes as they
curve, like snakes, on to Brobdingnagian brushes, and
the blues, the heavenly blues, of the sea and the sky in
the Bovril advertisements.
It is from these things that the ballet of the future
must draw its inspiration, if it is to survive. From the
splendours of cinema attendants, with their Moorish
hats, Tyrolean jackets, and Metro-Goldwyn breeches,
stalking over carpets of marsh-like softness, flitting
through the gloom, waving silver torches. From Red
shirts, Black shirts, Brown shirts . . . from the flutter of
flags over the puppet orators in Hyde Park, from the
whites and creams and ivories of a milk-bar, from the
penny-in-the-slot machines on Brighton pier where,
through a pane of salty glass, one can see the toy foot-
ballers jerking to and fro, and the tin horses scampering
over a foot of faded baize, and the eternal gypsy, whose
warning flutters through the slot on a piece of paste-
board and is carried off, with shrill giggles, by girls on
holiday, who read it to their swains, while the seagulls
From the petrol-pumps, which stand, like the idols of
some savage race, waiting to pour out their spirit for the
worshippers of speed. Waiting, on the roads that sweep
to the North, to give fresh life to a generation which
drinks deeply from their wells . . . waiting to speed their
disciples on to death. From the iron-roofed shelters that
have sprung up, along these roads, where the lorry-
drivers come in the small hours, tired, lurching, lined
with dust and grease, to drink synthetic coffee under
the swaying light of an oil lamp.
'ELL, we are getting on. We have already dis-
covered two national heroes in this modern England of
A dress-designer and a ballet dancer.
It might have been more impressive, from the point
of view of national prestige, if we had been able to point
to some great statesman, or scientist or philosopher,
but however hard we search, we cannot find such a
Of course, there is always Lord Nuffield ... as we
have had occasion to remark before. But although he is
the ideal millionaire, he shows no indication of any de-
sire to emerge into public life. His excursions into
politics have been forced upon him. He is like a spectator
at a bull-fight who is so exasperated at the inefficiency
of the matadors that he leaps into the arena and stuffs
the red rag down their own throats.
A great revivalist would have been something to boast
WAV E LE NGTH
about. But where shall we find him? The word revival,
as applied to modern England, sounds oddly unconvinc-
ing. Women's dresses, yes. Ballet, yes. Dog racing, yes.
But what else ?
Consider the question of agriculture. More than any
other industry, it serves as a barometer of national
virility. What does this barometer tell us?
It tells us that since 1921, the number of arable acres
of England and Wales that have gone out of cultivation
It gives us the following table of losses for crops:
Oats 926,943 acres
Barley 612,620 "
Wheat 245,004 "
Potatoes 122,700 "
It also informs us that in the same period the number
of workers who have drifted away from the land is
So if we are looking for a national hero we shall not
find him, presumably, among the ranks of the ministers
We had better stick to the trades of light entertain-
ment. These seem to be our chief glory in the modern
Any consideration of entertainment must obviously
involve an examination of the B.B.C.
When we have made this examination we can ask
ourselves what it has taught us. But for the moment,
let us have a rest and pay a visit to one of the most
fascinating buildings in the world, about which the
average Englishman knows little . . . Broadcasting
House, Portland Place, London W.I.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
I sat in a tiny room of the B.B.C., rumbling.
I was rumbling because it was twenty-five minutes to
seven, in the morning, and I had not had any break-
Normally, this natural and not unpleasing sound
would not have discomfited me. But at the moment it
was embarrassing. For the red light had just gone on,
there was silence in the room (apart from the involun-
tary vocalization of my inside), and the broadcaster
was craning over the microphone, waiting for the signal
that would tell him to begin his summary of the news.
He was broadcasting to Australia. Supposing I
rumbled all the way out there. It might have terrible
consequences. Yet, it was fascinating too. I thought of
rumbling over the Alps, across the Himalayas, bridging
the Indian Ocean and finally bursting, like a roar of
thunder, over Sydney Bridge. The thought was so
tremendous that something in me seemed to contract,
and hey presto! the rumbling ceased. Only just in time
too, for at that moment the broadcaster leant forward
and said, 'Good evening everybody'.
It was really to hear him say 'Good evening every-
body*, an hour before breakfast, that I had risen at this
unearthly hour and gone to Broadcasting House. It was
the only way in which an unscientific person like myself
could get a real impression of the miracle of Empire
broadcasting. Most of us are inclined to think of the
B.B.C. as an institution that begins at ten in the morn-
ing with the weather reports, and ends at midnight with
the jazz bands. We do not realize that Broadcasting
WAVE LE NGTH
House never sleeps, that its studios are always open,
its cafes always serving food, its great elevators per-
petually in motion, its voice speaking, almost cease-
lessly, to the Empire.
Let us sit together, in that little room, and think
about it all for a minute. The red light is on. A clock on
the wall, silently ticking the seconds, is the only thing
that moves. We hear the chimes of Big Ben. Then,
'Good evening everybody'. The broadcaster begins to
read the news.
We need not listen to the news. Indeed, it would be
difficult to do so, however exciting it might be. For . . .
to unscientific people like ourselves . . . the whole of this
broadcast is too uncanny to allow us to concentrate.
Think of it! It is twenty-five minutes past seven,
Greenwich time. That means that it is six-thirty in
It is the beginning of our Autumn. Mists in Hyde
Park, frost on the dahlias. It is the beginning of their
Spring. The blue mountains beyond Melbourne will
be very clear this evening and the wattle will be at its
Here we will soon be drinking our coffee. There they
will soon be drinking those cocktails that are made from
Here, in the fading plane-trees, the sparrows are
chirping. There, perched in the pale boughs of the gum-
trees, you will be able to see the solemn magpies . . .
perhaps, if you are lucky, the green of a parrot's wings.
I think of sitting out there, in an Australian garden,
as I have so often sat, listening to the queer, hoarse
Australian sounds that you hear in any of their gardens
that are not too near the town. The chirp of the crickets.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
The drone of the big black flies. The metallic rustle of
the eucalyptus leaves in the Southern wind. The mad,
distant cackle of the laughing jackass. And the almost
imperceptible sigh of masses of mimosa, swaying on
I think of turning on the radio, in this garden.
'London calling/ The bells of Big Ben. An agonizing
nostalgia. How clear it all is ... the music might come
from next door. They are playing an early symphony by
Mendelssohn. It is a very simple symphony, in which
the lines of melody and counter-melody stand out as
brightly as if they were coloured ribbons. You can
almost see the uplifted baton of the conductor, the con-
centrated faces of the audience, and you can imagine,
outside the concert hall, the lights of the buses, the
lamps shining through the fog, the crowds on the pave-
ments. . . .
That is the mood into which this music might take
Then look at this picture . . . the reality.
During this meditation, we must explain, the broad-
caster has finished his news-summary, the red light has
been switched off, we have smoked a cigarette, drunk
a cup of coffee, and transported ourselves to another
part of the building.
It is now the respectable hour of a quarter to eight.
But the symphony orchestra which we see before us has
been rehearsing since a quarter to six. As some of its
members live in the suburbs they will have risen not
later than five. It must be a strange feeling, rising in the
dark, and hurrying to dress, because you will shortly be
required to blow a flute to Australia, in order that you
may have enough money to pay the rent. But then, all
the interactions of commerce, of art and of money are
strange if you examine them, closely enough, as strange
as the interaction of Nature, who had to arrange the
birth and death of countless millions of creatures under
the sea, who had to cause immense cataclysms and
upheavals of soil before man could be provided with a
piece of chalk with which to write his name on a black-
The orchestra plays on. The musicians are unshaven,
some of them are dark under the eyes, and look as
though they would like a good hot bath. But you would
not guess this from their interpretation.
We close the double glass windows of the studio. We
can hear them no more. We can now talk.
I ask the announcer to explain how the wireless waves
work. He does so, with great clarity. A child could
understand every word he says. I cannot understand
one. Apparently some of the waves bounce about over
India quite a lot. That is all I got out of it. So we concen-
trated on a subject which was less obscure to me
He was an intelligent young man by which I mean,
of course, what every man means when he calls another
man intelligent, i.e. that he has the same ideas as him-
self. He thought that one of the gravest dangers to mod-
ern civilization was the way in which the younger gen-
eration can be dragooned into thinking anything that
the gang in charge may desire them to think.
'If Stalin wanted every Russian child to believe that
NEWS OF ENGLAND
all the workers in capitalist countries worked in chains,
not only metaphorically but literally, he could do it/
he said. 'If Hitler wanted the younger generation to be-
lieve that all Jews had tails, he could do it.'
'But surely/ I said, 'the wireless can fight against
that? You can ban newspapers, you can burn books.
But you can't close the air.'
'Can't you?' He looked at me and smiled. 'You can,
as a matter of fact. You can "jam out" other countries.
But that isn't the way the dictators choose to work.
There's a much simpler way/
'Forbid your people to own a wireless set that is
capable of picking up any but your own stations.
They've started that already. It isn't easy. Obviously
there'll be leakages . , . just as there will always be a
few forbidden newspapers and books that get smuggled
through the customs. But on the whole, its effective.'
This information depressed me. However much one
may condone certain aspects of authoritarianism, this
destruction of opposition, this utter ban on the free
interchange of ideas, is repellent to any Englishman.
I had comforted myself with the thought that the wire-
less was a sort of wind of liberty, that would always
blow round the world, ruffling the decrees of the dic-
tators, blowing authoritarian cobwebs out of ignorant
minds. After all, in my country cottage I had listened,
night after night, to the charming economic fairy tales
from the Moscow propaganda station. I had also
listened, on the Riviera, to a cultured Englishwoman,
retailing from Rome the Italian version of the war in
Abyssinia , . . a version which was calculated to give the
average Englishman high blood-pressure, and fill him
WAV E LENGTH
with a desire to grind large stones into the stomach of
the lady who was speaking.
But apparently, in the countries where, in the delicate
phrase of Mussolini, * liberty is to be regarded as a stink-
ing corpse', these things are no longer possible.
It is a saddening thought.
Even the wind is in chains.
To me the most interesting fact about modern British
broadcasting is to be found in a room where very few
people would think of looking for it. Not in the study of
Sir John Reith, the hard-headed, soft-hearted dictator
of the B.B.C. ... a man who, whatever his critics may
say about him, carries out a difficult task with a mini-
mum of error. Not in any of the luxurious studios. Nor
even in the great transmission room (if that is its name)
which looks like a scene from 'The Shape of Things to
Come ', with its myriads of steel knobs and coiling wires.
The room which, to me, houses the most interesting
feature of modern broadcasting is quite small, though
in ten years' time it will surely be one of the biggest and
most important rooms in the building. It is the room
where they keep the gramophone records.
I do not mean things like Columbia Record A^.28^6
on which Miss Smith has rendered * Moonlight Fancies',
on the xylophone. I refer, firstly, to the already large
and swiftly growing collection of historical records
starting with Mr. Gladstone speaking into a phonograph
to Mr. Edison and carrying us down, through all the
principal statesmen, to the abdication of Edward VIII
NEWS OF ENGLAND
and after. This collection, which becomes daily more
representative, will enable the children of the future to
enjoy a privilege similar to that which would be enjoyed
by a child of to-day if, for example, his teacher could
turn on an actual record of Queen Elizabeth addressing
her troops at Tilbury.
The other class of record, which, though it may not be
of such educational value, will obviously tremendously
widen the scope of entertainment, is so varied that one
can only classify it by saying that it * catches the sounds
of modern life '. The sounds of a miner's pick, far below
the Welsh soil, the sounds of the traffic in Trafalgar
Square, 1938, the sound of waves beating in some ter-
rible storm. The possibilities are obviously endless and
they are not made any the less exciting by the possi-
bilities of television or of the cinema.
The growth of this record room is one of the many
signs of the rapidity with which, in this age, everything
is changing. For as it grows, so the 'Effects' room
shrinks. Supposing we pay the * Effects' room a visit,
before we go to the record room. It will soon, in all
probability, have only an historical interest.
Fade-in to tempestuous noise of thunder, wind, ship-
wreck and cries of mariners.
(a) Storm at sea.
WAVE LEN GTH
(ft) Ship creaking.
(c) Sea wash.
(d) Sea wash plus mariners' cries.
Fade down and out.
Enter Prospero and Miranda.
That is how William Shakespeare appears on the
script of a radio programme in 1938.
The script lies in front of a young man, wearing head-
phones, through which he is kept in touch with the
passage of the play. As the signal flashes in front of him,
he sets some records in motion. A small boy in a corner
tiptoes over to a sheet of metal and shakes it, producing
a very fair imitation of thunder. With his other hand
he sets in motion a wind-machine. He seems to be en-
joying himself. If you put your ear to the headphones,
while all this is going on, you will hear an admirable
version of a gale and the distant cries of shipwrecked
This is one of the few occasions at the B.B.C. when
you can still see them using this old-fashioned sort of
e effect '. Probably by 1940 there will hardly be a sound,
whether of the elements, or of animals, or of slamming
doors or clattering hoofs, which is rendered by any other
means than the gramophone.
The various sounds of life which are still created by
mechanical devices are as follows :
Horses 9 hoofs. This is made by two empty coco-nut
shells, held upside-down, and tapped on a tray of sand
or pebbles. It is very realistic, as you will learn if you
try for yourself. You can make the horse gallop or trot
or go lame, according to your fancy.
Thunder. This is caused by a large sheet of flexible
iron, hanging from the ceiling. You take hold of a corner
NEWS OF ENGLAND
of the iron and shake it. This needs rather more skill
than the hoofs, because if you shake too hard it sounds
like an old-fashioned melodrama.
Rain. This is done by a roller-skate inside a tank.
Why this should sound like rain, I cannot imagine, but
it does. There is also another sort of rain, which is simply
a shower falling into a bath of water. It sounds very like
a shower falling into a bath of water.
Wind. This is a fan inside a cage. Very windy indeed.
Aeroplane. A metal disc rotating against a drum.
This is the best 'effect * of all, and may be one of the very
few which will not be superseded by gramophone
Various obvious sounds which occur in plays will
probably also be retained, such as the slamming of a
door, which is done with a real door, the turning of a
key in a lock, the sliding of a bolt, the opening of a
However, it is probable that everything else will be
recorded. We have seen, above, how even the opening
of The Tempest, with its Thunder and Wind and Rain,
was illustrated by the gramophone.
This may depress some people. It is bad enough to
know that the wind which howls at you from your loud-
speaker is, in reality, only a fan turned on by a little
boy with tousled hair, but it is even worse to know that
it blew perhaps years ago, and is just being re-created
by a tired young man setting a needle on to a sheet of
However, it should not really depress us. Because the
possibilities of the records are so vast. We will now go
and hear some of them.
'Well, what would you like to hear? We've got an
unbroken chain of American presidents, from Theodore
Roosevelt onwards. We've got, naturally, all the great
singers . . . Patti singing "Home, Sweet Home"? But
then, you can hear that anywhere.'
* Florence Nightingale if you like. That's rather a
thrill, though you'd probably be more excited by some
of the records of the Treaty of Versailles . . , Venizelos
addressing the Peace Conference for example. Then
there are the speeches which men like Winston Churchill
made just after the Armistice in 1918. Some of them
make pretty funny reading now.
'But of course if you're really interested in the past,
we'd better turn on Gladstone for you/
Turn on Gladstone! There was something almost un-
canny in that phrase. Most of us are old enough to have
met men who, in moments of crisis, may be counted
upon, sooner or later, to sigh: *0h for an hour of Glad-
stone.' But for the majority of us, Gladstone is as dead,
in the sense of being part of history, as George Washing-
ton or, for that matter, William the Conqueror.
It was therefore with the keenest interest that I saw
the record placed on the machine. This record is one
of the oldest records extant. It was made on one of
Edison's first phonographs. The tradition is that Glad-
stone sat on one side of the table and Edison on the
other, and that Gladstone spoke impromptu, on the
spur of the moment. One would like to know more of
that historic meeting. However, the main fact is that
NEWS OF E NGLAND
as far as I am aware, the authenticity of the record has
never been questioned.
The record began to turn. And then came the voice.
Rich, varied, unmistakable. And as I listened to it I
realized, with a sense almost of triumph, that it was the
voice that I had always guessed it to be, the voice with
which I had always, in imagination, endowed him. It
was the voice of a ham actor.
This is what he said :
'My dear Mr. Edison, I am profoundly indebted to
you for not the entertainment only, but for the instruc-
tion it has been my privilege to enjoy. The request which
you have just made of me, to receive a record of my
voice, is one which I cheerfully comply with so far as it
lies in my power, though I regret to say that the voice
which I transmit to you is only the very common organ
the employment of which has been overstrained. Yet
I offer to you, so much as I possess, and so much as old
age has left to me, with the utmost satisfaction as being
a deep testimony to the instruction and delight . . ."
(here the record breaks off).
Not very much to go upon there, you may say. Noth-
ing that would afford the historian any valid excuse for
revising his estimate of Gladstone's character. Perhaps
not . . . although the reference to his voice as a very
common organ, when he knew perfectly well that it was
nothing of the sort, has, to me, a ring of very unpleasing
complacency. But the sense of the words is of secondary
importance. It is the way those words are said, the
carefully calculated rise and fall of the practised orator
an orator who had orated so long that he could speak
no more and above all, the bogus vibrations of 'sin-
cerity* which told me so much.
I must apologize for attempting to translate, at such
length, a sensation which is essentially untranslatable.
It would have been better to say that his voice was the
voice of a ham actor, and leave it at that.
But one thing we can say, with certainty, and that is
that no man could attempt to speak in the cadences of
Gladstone to-day, and get away with it. He would be
laughed off the platform. I do not feel this about Dis-
raeli, nor about many far earlier statesmen. Canning,
at his most florid, would still thrill the House of Com-
mons, and you would hardly have to alter a word of the
speeches of Fox and Pitt (though Burke would prove
more than a little embarrassing). But Gladstone . . .
oh, the hollowness of that thunder, the shabbiness
of that rhetoric, revealed for all time on that disc of
We might stay for hours in the record room. One of
the most interesting of its developments is the fact
that it is now possible to 'touch up* voices almost as
effectively as the photographer can ' touch up' faces.
While I was there I listened to a speech by a certain
politician which had been treated in this manner. Dur-
ing this speech he had come a howler on the word
* exploratory'. It stuck in his throat, again and again,
like a verbal breadcrumb. The speech had to be relayed
on the following day. When he listened in, the politician,
to his delight, found that he sailed over the word 'ex-
ploratory' with complete smoothness. His friends were
pleased but puzzled, his enemies disgusted. Only the
men of the B.B.C. knew how it was done.
It would be pleasant if there existed some spiritual
recording apparatus which could call back, from the
ether, some of the cruel and bitter things which we have
NEWS OF ENGLAND
said in our life-time and send them out again, into space,
cleansed from all offence.
This is, admittedly, a very fragmentary sketch of the
British Broadcasting Corporation.
No institution has been more hotly criticized, with
less reason. Compared with most foreign services it is,
politically, a model of restraint. On the other hand, far
from being dull, it has frequently led the way, not only
in the originality of its entertainment, but in the effi-
ciency of its technique.
America may be able to employ higher-priced stars
but there is something a little irritating, to most Eng-
lishmen, in the thought of Beethoven 'coming to you
through the courtesy of Haliotosine, the world's most
powerful mouthwash *. When I hear that sort of thing,
on American radio stations, a faint but cloying aroma
of disinfectant seems to permeate even the most spirit-
ual phrases of the Ninth Symphony. It is far worse in
France, where that admirable liqueur, Banania, is
plugged so energetically that even a Chopin nocturne
irrelevantly suggests the robust rhythms of *Yes, we
have no bananas*.
As for the authoritarian states . . . well, we have had
our say about them. They have chained the winds of
imagination, and harnessed the great tides of thought.
It is strange that, without exception, all the great dic-
tators are music-lovers. Their favourite metal is iron.
Yet, here they are, in their spare moments, playing with
Between these two extremes, the extreme of irre-
sponsible commercialism and the extreme of equally
irresponsible authoritarianism, the B.B.C, stands,
quietly offering her wares to the world. She does not
shout like a huckster, nor swear like a recruiting ser-
geant. But in the long run I feel that her voice will be
heard most clearly, for it speaks in a language that is as
free as the world-wandering wind.
Softly , Softly, Ca tehee Monkey
'E HAVE NOW three heroes of the New England.
A dress-designer, a ballet dancer, and a broadcaster.
To this strange trio we can now add a fourth, who will
make the collection even more bizarre ... a policeman.
American film stars, when they are hard up for any-
thing to say to interviewers about this country, usually
observe, *I think your police are wonderful'. The phrase
has become so hackneyed that it is now treated as a
joke. It is, however, one of the most penetrating things
that the film star could say.
Our police are wonderful. If the Empire was run as
efficiently as Scotland Yard and its affiliated forces,
there would be little to complain about.
In spite of this, crime is not decreasing. It is being
held in check, but with unceasing effort. Most English-
men, who regard themselves as members of a law-
abiding community, have little realization of the tre-
mendous impetus which the great war gave to every
sort of crime in this country. We were given to under-
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
stand (in common with our allies and our enemies) that
the soul of our nation was being ' cleansed'. Actually,
of course, it was being unutterably degraded. You do
not ' cleanse' a man's soul by ordering him to commit
legal murder, for four long years, any more than you
'cleanse* his uniform by making him stand knee-deep
in mud, for a similar period.
The post-war statistics for crime show as startling an
increase over the pre-war figures as the increase in the
national expenditure. And just as we seem unable to
lessen our annual budget of money, so we seem equally
unable to lessen our annual budget of crime.
Thanks to Scotland Yard the criminal budget remains
fairly stationary. But if we compare it with the pre-war
budgets we shall have a shock.
For example, if we take a four years' average, we find
that the crimes against property, with or without vio-
lence, show an annual increase of more than 133,000
over the pre-war figures. That does not seem to indicate
that the 'cleansing* of the national soul was as thorough
as Mr. Lloyd George would suggest.
We find again that there are more than double the
amount of forgers, and that there is an increase of over
a third in crimes 'against the person', that the increase
in bigamy is two hundred per cent, and in 'unnatural'
offences nearly three hundred per cent.
The only crime of importance which shows a steady
decrease is the crime of murder.
I repeat, this is not the fault of Scotland Yard. The
task of policing modern England is one which might de-
feat even the most ruthless dictator. And the way in
which it is being done is one of the most instructive
lessons which we could learn in our national psychology.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
It is also one of the few bright spots to which the true
lover of England (as opposed to the *my-coun try-right-
or-wrong' maniac) can point. We will therefore make
the most of it.
The curious words which form the title of this chapter
hang on a placard in the Information Room at Scotland
Yard. They have, as far as I am aware, no official recog-
nition. They have appeared in no routine orders, and it
is unlikely that they will ever intrude themselves into
a speech at a formal banquet.
All the same, they are typical of the spirit of the new
*The worst offence of which a policeman can be guilty
is to be rude.'
It was a chief inspector who said that to me. We were
looking at the notice, and I had asked him if it had any
special meaning. To the lay mind it suggests padded
heels, muffled footsteps, dramatic tiptoeings down dark
alleys. But it was a little subtler than that.
He went on to explain. 'It really means that in Scot-
land Yard we never admit that anybody is a fool. Sup-
posing a young policeman rings us up here with some
story that turns out to be a lot of nonsense. We don't
bawl him out. If we did, we might never get another
story from him. Policemen have got feelings, you know,
like other men, though sometimes the public seems to
forget it No ... we let him down lightly and tell him to
try again/ He smiled. *And next time he comes along/
he added, 'he may have meat to sell!'
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
There was a time when such opinions, coming from an
inspector who had earned his laurels in the ranks, would
have been ridiculed. But times have changed.
The theme song of the policeman is no longer, ' Wat's
all this 'ere?' The old days when he bent the knees,
pushed back his helmet, scratched his head and noted
irrelevant details in a much-thumbed notebook . . . these
are gone for ever.
Scotland Yard actually dares to admit the word
' charm' as an attribute of which a policeman need not
be ashamed. Nor is this charm only for the benefit of
American debutantes, or film stars who think that a boy
in blue is a nice background for a blonde. It is a distinct
asset in the detection of crime.
Think of that Information Room for a moment. Into
it, from all over London, echo the cries of the distracted
and the hysterical. Women in danger (or women who
think that they are in danger, which is much the same
thing). Desperate men. Fugitives, The accents are often
broken, choked with fear or grief. The story is nearly
always incoherent. Details are wildly inaccurate.
Of what use, in dealing with such cases, would be the
old formula, 'Wot's all this 'ere?'? The man who is
listening to these stories, through his earphones, has to
be more than a mere collector of information. He has,
somehow or other, to play the part of a father confessor,
to put comfort into his voice. Otherwise he may gain
nothing. He may lose his story altogether.
* Softly, softly, ca tehee monkey/
When you look at that label you begin to understand
the reason for the new trend in detective fiction. You
begin to see why the conventional sleuth in the dressing-
gown is losing so much of his glamour, and why he is
NEWS OF E NGLAND
being ousted, in the public imagination, by the quiet
efficiency of the man with the helmet.
One of the reasons why the public does not appreciate
the radical changes which have come over Scotland
Yard 1 is the fact that the Yard does not greatly care for
In America, though the police department may not
take its orders directly from Hollywood, the spirit of
Hollywood permeates the whole force. Compare, for
instance, the system of directing police cars from head-
quarters. The whereabouts of the cars are shown, in
New York, by maps on which lights perpetually flicker.
It looks very dramatic, but it is no more efficient, and a
good deal more expensive, than the little brass labels
which are quietly shifted, by hand, over our maps in
London. In New York, when a police car goes into
action, the whole city is scared by the screaming sirens.
In London, a private car slips unobtrusively out of the
gates of the Yard. It causes no sensation. Nobody looks
at it. All the same, it can travel at a hundred miles an
hour, and it gets its man.
But though Scotland Yard may hate the idea of
'dressing up 5 , there are departments in it which, to a
policeman of the old-fashioned type, would have seemed
almost theatrical. One of these is the Flag Room. That
may not be its right name, but it is appropriate. And it
would be well worth our while to visit it.
^These comments upon Scotland Yard apply with equal force to the
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
Here, on wooden stands, are immense maps that reach
from floor to ceiling. Every map is speckled with a rash
of brightly coloured flags.
The idea is to make statistics live. No policeman is
going to get very worked up about quantities of figures
in a book, printed in small type, and accompanied by
the dry comments of officialdom. Even graphs are apt
to lose their fascination unless they hang over one's own
bed when one's temperature is nearing the hundred and
three's. But flags are different. They make you sit up
and think , . . think clearly, too.
For example. Here, on this great map before us, the
flags suddenly gather thick and fast. It is at a cross-
roads. Down every street they march, till at the junc-
tion they rally thickly together, in every colour of the
rainbow. At first, it is rather thrilling. You feel that
you are watching a pageant in miniature, played by
toy soldiers. And then you realize that the pageant has
a sinister twist. For this is the Accident Chart, and each
flag represents death or injury on the King's highway.
From these flags you can learn, with a speed that
would surprise you, everything there is to be known
about accidents. You can learn how, when, why, and
where you are most likely to be killed, injured or other-
wise incommoded. You can learn what to seek, and
what to avoid, what times of the day are most danger-
ous, and why. A couple of minutes on that map gave
me a very clear picture of certain localities in London
where I shall in future watch my step.
Here is another map, labelled Pickpockets. This map
also is lamentably abundant in flags.
Let us put this map to the test. Let us ask it a ques-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
'Would it be any use for me to walk along Oxford
Street in the afternoon on the look-out for pickpockets ? '
Oxford Street is a crowded thoroughfare. The after-
noon is its busiest time of day.
But the map does not give the expected answer.
The map says, 'No'.
You see those flags along Oxford Street? Nearly all
of the pins have scarlet heads. A scarlet head stands for
night. There are plenty of them. But of the blue heads,
which mark the afternoon, there is only one in the last
five months. There are, however, a fair number of yel-
low, which mark the morning.
The map tells us a great deal more than that. Why
do so many scarlet heads cluster together, at regular
intervals, down the street? Ah ... we understand. Those
represent bus-stops. It is obvious, when you come to
think of it. If you are waiting for a bus, especially the
last bus at night, you are so anxious to catch it that you
forget everything else. But it is not till you see the flags
on the map that this simple fact becomes clear.
Those flags with mauve heads represent thefts in
taxis. They tell us that a great many of those thefts took
place after eleven o'clock, and that the majority were
committed by women. If you think for a moment, you
will be able to re-create a squalid little drama where a
woman solicits a man in a bar, plies him with drink till
closing time (eleven o'clock in this district), puts him
into a taxi, and fumbles for his wallet while his arms are
round her. And that is the true story, repeated with
wearisome insistence, of those little mauve flags.
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
Although the new Scotland Yard is one of the few
really energetic organizations of modern England, it is
to the provinces that we must look if we would realize
the true romance of the war which we are waging against
Of all the buildings which I have entered in the past
year in this country (and they have been many and
various) none has fascinated me more than the Labora-
tory of Forensic Science at Nottingham. Of all the men
I have met, none has proved more deeply interesting
than the head of this laboratory, whom we will call
Dr. H. He is an example of the fact that the country
which produced a Sherlock Holmes of fiction is also
capable of producing a Sherlock Holmes in the flesh.
He would, in all probability, object to such a descrip-
tion. He would say that he is simply a scientist under
the direction of the Home Office, working in conjunction
with Scotland Yard or any other police force who may
require his services. He would add that he is merely one
of a large number of men, equally talented, whose
services and intelligence are now at the country's dis-
posal. I prefer to call him the modern Sherlock Holmes.
And of all the things he showed me, it was the seeds
that interested me most.
There they lay, tray after tray of them, sealed in tiny
glass tubes. Each tube was neatly labelled with the
name of the wild plant from which it had been taken,
the season at which the plant flowered and seeded, and
the type of soil in which it thrived. There were many
hundreds of these tubes, and it would be safe to say that
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they represented ninety-eight per cent of the flowers,
grasses, reeds, crops and flowering shrubs which are to
be found wild in the British Isles.
A pretty prospect for a botanist with a touch of poetry
in him! For here, in these tubes, was such a potential
blowing and growing, so many million embryos of
colour and perfume, that it would need but a little
imagination to think of them breaking out of their glass
prisons and clambering in a riot of greens and pinks and
blues over the city's black roofs.
But they would never break out, and indeed, there
was nothing in their surroundings to encourage them
to do so. Nothing but charts and test-tubes and the
grimly efficient apparatus of a modern laboratory. And
they themselves were born, not to give joy, not to thrust
their tendrils into the earth and lift their leaves to the
sky, but to be handed round in a court of law, to be
peered at through microscopes, and possibly ... to
sentence a man to death.
For if some rare seed were found in the folds of a
murderer's trousers, and if it could be matched by one
of the seeds that slumbered in these phials, it might
form a deadly link in a chain of evidence ... it might
prove conclusively that at a certain time a certain man
had walked through certain fields, with murder in his
It needs no very vivid imagination to grasp the im-
mensities of the speculations which those tiny seeds
might provoke ... to pause in wonder at the thought of
the strange and powerful destiny which may have been
planned for even the lightest piece of thistle-down, drift-
ing down the lane on a vagrant wind.
Dr. H. is in the mood for talking this afternoon. We
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
will stroll round with him, and listen to what he has to
It is fairly certain that, if we happened to be contem-
plating a crime at the beginning of the afternoon, we
shall have given up the idea by the time that tea arrives
... at least, as long as Dr. H. is around.
His collection of seeds, as we observed above, was an
example of a scientific attitude to crime which is new in
this country, except in the pages of fiction. And the
making of this collection only served to emphasize the
lack of similar collections, equally bizarre, but no less
A collection of matches, for example.
Why has nobody ever thought of making a collection
of matches before ? Once the idea is put down on paper,
it seems glaringly obvious. At a thousand street corners,
criminals have paced up and down, glancing up at some
dimly-lit window, lighting a cigarette, throwing it away
after the first puff, lighting another, throwing it away
again. The discarded cigarette, of course, may be evi-
dence, but it is not nearly such valuable evidence as
the match which lit it. If the night is dry the cigarette
may burn out and leave nothing but ashes which blow
away on the wind. If the night is wet, the paper will
dissolve, and the tobacco be trampled into the mud. But
the match remains. And sometimes that dead match
may burn a hole in a very neatly fabricated alibi.
'Look here/ says Dr. H., pulling open a drawer. And
as we peer inside, we see a tumbled heap of all sorts of
strange matchboxes, filled, or half-filled, with their
' Here's one from Portugal. This tiny one here, he's
Italian. That bundle over there represents most of the
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commonest French brands. That's an interesting one . . ,
it's only used on the Irish cross-channel boats/
All of which makes one suspect that the perfect
criminal of the future will be a non-smoker, as well as a
teetotaller and a vegetarian.
Here is another collection. Woods. Every sort of wood
you have ever heard of, and a good many that you
haven't. Australian eucalyptus, common Canadian
spruce, Norwegian silver birch, honest English oak.
Why go to all this trouble ? What will you ever be able
to learn, say, from a piece of fibre from a Douglas fir?
Quite a lot, you will reply, after an afternoon with
Dr. H. For you will have heard his story of a certain
bullet which was fired at a yacht, from the banks of a
river, one morning. You will have heard how there was
a little speck of wood clinging to the bullet, which
turned, under the microscope, into Douglas fir, with
which the deck of the yacht was planked. You will have
heard . . . but that is too long a story for these pages.
Collection after collection, you will find, in this
strange museum. On its shelves you will find every sort
of rope, string or twine which may one day be found,
bound tightly round some ugly parcel in a dark room.
You will find details of every sort of furniture, from the
shoddiest rackety table to the alarming 'luxury suites'
of the modern flat.
' I learnt all I could possibly learn about furniture, '
said Dr. H., 'so that when I saw a fragment of it I could
immediately say "Ah!"'
I would not like to be around when Dr. H. said 'Ah !'
... if I had a guilty conscience.
You will find, too, every sort of fabric from which a
suit is made. The sort of stuff that is used to stiffen the
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
lapels of a suit which might be worn by a Whitechapel
tough. The sort of padding that is used to broaden the
shoulders of a young member of Buck's.
In fact, it would be easier to say what you would not
find, either stored on those shelves or slumbering in Dr.
H/s brain. A host of silent evidence, waiting for the
day when it may be wanted.
It makes one think. A flake of polish, a skein of
thread, a scrap of sawdust, a withered leaf, a tiny feather
. . . created, with infinite ingenuity, over endless ages,
to weigh down the scales of death, against a man who
is himself the end of creation . . . yes, it makes one think
so hard that one wishes one had not the power of
Unless you have a morbidly sensational mind, the real
fascination of this new science of detection does not lie
in the discovery of exotic f clues' to catch 'master crimi-
nals*. Rather does it consist in the neat dovetailing of
the evidence of those everyday tragedies in which we
may all be involved, with the laboratory as a new and
powerful assistant, in the background.
Here is a perfect example of such a case.
One dark night Mr. Q , who is by profession a
labourer, emerges from a public-house at closing time,
sniffs the cold air with appreciation, and begins to walk
He walks a little unsteadily, for Mr. Q , if we must
be frank, has had just one pint too many. And that last
pint causes him to step into the gutter at the precise
moment when a car is passing.
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The next thing that Mr. Q remembers is waking
up in hospital with a fractured skull, and a bitter re-
sentment against the owner of the car, who had not
stopped to pick him up.
Did he notice what the car looked like? No. Who was
driving it? No. The colour? The number? No. Mr.
Q had not been in a condition to notice anything
And that is what the police have to work on.
The first thing the police do is to go to the pubs in the
neighbourhood and make inquiries about the type of
customer who was being served that night. That sounds
a hopeless task, until you apply a little intelligence to it,
when it will be found to narrow down considerably.
Firstly, the man was walking home on the left-hand
side of the road, and as cars are perverse enough to drive
on the left in England, the pub was presumably higher
up the road.
Secondly, it was a poor district, where there were few
cars, and none of them were owned by young men, but
by ^fathers of families. Therefore a cheap car was indi-
cated, or even a motor bicycle.
Thirdly, there was probably a woman in the case, or
rather in the car. The police are not cynics but they
have learnt, from long experience, that in nine cases out
of ten, when a man knocks somebody down and drives
on, he is not an inhuman monster, nor is he afraid that
he will be had up for manslaughter, but he is afraid of
what his wife will have to say about the woman who,
most regrettably, is sitting by his side.
All these points . , . the position of the pub, the age
of the man, the character of the vehicle, and finally, the
presence of the woman . . . were satisfied, with suspicious
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
perfection, when the police discovered that among the
customers that night in a pub higher up the road had
been a grey-haired man, the owner of a motor bicycle
with a side-car, who had with him a pretty young girl.
And when they further discovered that although he
garaged his bicycle only some 200 yards farther down
the road, he had not passed the policeman on point
duty, but had turned off, and approached the garage by
a circuitous route, things began to look very black for
However, the English law is at its best when things
look very black for a suspect. ' Things looking black
ain't evidence*, as a policeman once said to me. f That's
simply the time when the judge tells the jury to forget
that the prisoner's got such an ugly face/ And it is quite
possible that the net would never have closed round the
unfortunate grey-haired man if it had not been for the
Laboratory of Forensic Science,
It was to this laboratory that an enterprising young
policeman arrived, on the following morning, with a
burden of two human hairs. These hairs, he explained,
had been found adhering to the mudguard of the side-
car. Would Dr. H. kindly express an opinion ?
Dr. H. put them under the microscope and expressed
an opinion. They were human hairs, they were dark red,
and they were healthy hairs, which had been pulled out
by the roots, rather than dropping out. He expressed
two other opinions, which were, firstly that the police
should go to the hospital, and remove two hairs from
the victim to see if they matched, and secondly, that
they should search his clothes for any unusual material
which might be adhering to them.
The hairs matched, as might be expected. And a tiny
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thread of some fibrous material was found in the lapel of
the man's coat.
Now, one of the great difficulties of the modern Sher-
lock Holmes, bending over a test-tube in his laboratory,
is that the amount of material at his disposal is so very
limited. If he had yards of thread, sheets of blood-
stained cloth, reams of faded paper, bags of mysterious
nails, and so on, he would be able to make as many mis-
takes as he liked. But he never has these things. He has
only a snippet of thread, a minute scrap of cloth, a tiny
torn-off corner of a sheet of paper, and one rather
mouldy nail So he cannot afford to make any mistakes
Nor did he in this case.
When Dr. H. had disintegrated the little thread in his
laboratory, he rang up the police. 'That material you
gave me is a fabric of split cane,' he said.
* Thank you very much,' said the police. With reason
... for it was with split cane that the suspected side-car
I have dwelt at a certain length on this very ordinary,
unsensational case, because it is so^ordinary and un-
sensational. The virtuous section of the British public
should gain comfort from the thought of the care and
skill which is at their disposal And the criminal classes,
among whom my books are deservedly popular, should
be correspondingly deterred. Every day that Dr. H.
and his associates continue their activities, is a day
nearer the doom of crime.
Consider this robbery, which was brought to light by
SOFTLY, SOFTLY, CATCHEE MONKEY
the peculiar behaviour of a tiny scrap of stuff in a test-
Not long ago the safe of a provincial co-operative
store was broken open, and the contents rifled. The thief
escaped in a stolen car.
When they arrested a suspect, it looked as clear a case
as could be imagined. The floors of these co-operative
places are always covered with sawdust. There was saw-
dust on the floor of the stolen car. There was also saw-
dust in the socks of the arrested man. What more could
you want ?
The English law wants a lot more before it will con-
vict on circumstantial evidence. Even when the labora-
tory had obtained samples of the sawdust from the store,
from the original source of supply, from the car, from
the socks and proved it to be all identical . . . (there are
more varieties of sawdust than most of us would im-
agine) . . . the English law still demanded more.
It got it. Dr. H. noticed, in the samples of sawdust
from the car and from the socks, a number of little
brown flakes which looked exactly like the broken-ofF
pieces of tobacco from a cigar. He knew that one didn't
buy cigars in a co-operative store, and he suspected that
it was unlikely that the average customer would smoke
them. So what the devil were they? I do not know how
long it took him to find out, but he did find out. They
were withered pieces of the skin of new potatoes.
He went to the telephone. (And this is when the au-
thentic ring of Sherlock Holmes must have crept into
'By the way/ he said, *are there any new potatoes
in that store?'
* Yes, there are/ said the voice at the other end, with
NEWS OF ENGLAND
pardonable eagerness. ' There's a big case of them stand-
ing right up against the safe.'
And at that moment, I expect, the thief felt a shud-
der, as though a ghost were walking over his grave. The
ghost of a new potato.
You learn a deal of curious information when talking
to Dr. H. Not enough to set you up in a life of crime,
perhaps, but enough to make you realize some of the
more elementary pitfalls into which you may stray.
You learn, for instance, that if a signature is an ab-
solutely perfect match of another signature, it is almost
indubitably a forgery. You have never before signed
your own name in exactly the same way as you signed
it last time, and you will never sign it in exactly the
same way in the future.
You learn a generalization which might well have
been written up over the mantelpiece in Sherlock
Holmes's study. 'The greatest evidential value resides
in common things used for uncommon purposes.'
You learn that you never enter a room, however care-
fully, without leaving some trace of you behind, and
that you never leave it, however innocently, without
carrying some trace of it away with you.
You learn indeed, so much, that unless we tear our-
selves away from Dr. H., there is a danger that the rest
of this book will turn into a manual for the amateur
OR THE LAST FOUR CHAPTERS we have been compara-
tively cheerful. We have seen our countrymen acting
with energy and resource. It is true that the energy has
been directed towards objects which cannot be described
as of vital importance, and that the resource is of a
negative nature, in that it is preventive rather than
creative. However, let us be thankful for small mercies.
It would be pleasant if the rest of the book might
continue in the same strain, if we could feel that we have
said the worst that is to be said, and that for the remain-
ing part of our journey we might dwell on brighter pros-
pects. But though it might be pleasant it would not be
very profitable. For no survey, however superficial, of
Great Britain in 1938 would be complete without a
picture of those areas which, for lack of a more vivid
word, we politely call 'distressed*. And it is to those
areas that we must now reluctantly turn.
There are times in life when platitudes suddenly be-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
come luminous, when old proverbs ring out with the
challenge of trumpets. We have reached such a time in
this book. We have all heard, and most of us have re-
peated, the saying that: 'One half of the world does not
know how the other half lives/ There can be few who
realize how bitterly true this is in our country to-day.
It is almost impossible to believe that the picture I am
compelled to paint, in the next few chapters, is drawn
from life, that its setting is only a few hours' motor
drive from London, the richest capital in the world, and
that the year is 1938.
Yet, if you choose, you can get into the train, and
verify all the facts. It is not a suggestion to be recom-
mended if you have a sensitive nature. But for the
adventurous it would be well worth while. It is not every
country that offers you the opportunity of travelling,
in a few hours, into a completely different world.
That was what I did, when I went down to Wales.
If you doubt it, it will not be for long.
Something queer is happening . . . something we don't
It was Friday when we left the bustle and scurry of
Cardiff. Exactly ten o'clock on Friday morning, to be
precise. But now, only half an hour later, it is Sunday,
All the Sundays that have ever been, rolled into one.
Sunday stretches, like a grey mist, over the scarred
hills that unroll before you as you approach the valley
of the Rhondda. And the symbols of this unnatural
Sunday all seem to be dressed in black, for even if their
jackets were once brown or grey the coal dust has dyed
them to its own colour, and they are now too lethargic
to brush it off. Besides, in all probability, there is no
such thing as a clothes-brush in the house. The average
life of a clothes-brush cannot be much more than ten
years. And it is a good deal longer that these men have
been out of work.
The car glides on. I wish that they had not washed it
at the garage last night. It looks so sleek, so polished, so
unpleasantly prosperous in this deepening desolation.
Somewhere before Talbot Green there are some white
geese, feeding in an allotment near a row of miners'
houses. The geese sparkle across the valley like flecks
of brilliant Chinese white on a sombre canvas. But there
is nothing white after that. And as I drive cautiously
down the narrow winding street of Tony Rafael, I feel
that I am not only leaving the world behind, I am leav-
ing time behind as well.
I stand on the side of a high hill, looking over Peny-
graig, in the heart of the distressed area.
You do not expect a mining district to be a beauty
spot. But you do expect it to have a certain grim attrac-
tion, born of energy and power. The wheels of industry
may not be lovely in themselves, but when they are
whirring together they form patterns full of life. The
smoke of industry may not be of the gayest colour, but
even the blacks and greys that hang over factories can
be lit by the sun, or by the blast furnaces, into hues and
shapes which have a quality of beauty.
But here was only the ugly shell, without the life to
A group of six young men, silent, dragging their feet,
NEWS OF ENGLAND
passed me, on their way down the hill. They walked as
though they were following a funeral. As indeed they
were, for each was following the hearse of his own hopes.
A syren, far below, announced noon. It came from one
of the few mines that were still working. As I watched,
I saw tiny black figures emerging from a side-street that
led to the pit-head. It was heartening to see those black
figures. They gave life to a landscape that was otherwise
The sun glittered on row after row of hideous little
houses with roofs of slate. From where I was standing
you could see into the streets. At every corner were
groups of black figures, leaning against the wall The
figures did not move. They stayed there, in strange,
static groups. There was a sense that some gigantic,
essentially sinister ballet was in progress, and that the
figures were waiting for the conductor's wand to make
I shuddered. Better move on. It would do no good to
give way to one's feelings, like this, before one knew
So I moved on, down into the valley. To ask a ques-
tion, and to go on asking it, until I found the answer.
The question to which I sought an answer was this:
*What was the nature of the mental disease en-
gendered in the minds of men who had been unemployed
all their lives? And particularly, how did this disease
affect the minds of the younger generation, for whom
DISTRE SSED AREA
work was a strange myth, something that had existed
long ago, but was now utterly and eternally extinct?"
In spite of the mournful nature of my task, there was
excitement in it. As I drew nearer to the town I felt as
some medical research worker might feel, on the track
of some new, uncharted germ. That the germ existed, I
had no shadow of doubt. Its symptoms were every-
where. And even if the symptoms had been less defined,
one would have suspected the existence of the germ, for
the simple reason that no such breeding-place of social
maladies had ever existed in Great Britain before.
What were these men thinking about? And what were
they doing? Had they invented any new ways of killing
time ? Even if they stayed in bed till eleven every morn-
ing, there was still the rest of the day to account for.
And not only the rest of the day, but the rest of 365
days . . . ad infinitum.
And what effect had all this had upon the children?
It is easy enough to trace the medical effects resulting,
let us say, from a war period of malnutrition. But what
were the effects on a child's mind of this perpetual ex-
ample of idleness? There are tens of thousands of
families, in the valleys, who married on the dole. The
children that are born from this state-supported union
are not so far from the years when they will be marrying
themselves, also on the dole. In other words, we are
within measurable distance of the time when children
will be born whose grandfathers, as well as their im-
mediate parents, have never known work.
Well, what has it done for them?
After all, these men are our brothers. And even if you
incline to the view that you are not your brother's
NEWS OF ENGLAND
keeper, you sit up and take notice if the doctor tells you
that he is suffering from something which may be in-
We shall have to begin with some statistics. But we
will try to see that they are not too boring.
It is horrible that they could strike anybody as * bor-
ing *, but that, after all, is the way of life.
One of the vilest things about the great war was the
way in which the great majority of the civilian popu-
lation gradually began to accept the casualty lists as
nonchalantly as, to-day, we take the society gossip.
Instead of every list being a record of agony and horror,
a public affront to God, it became just ... a casualty
list. And unless you had a brother or a son at the
front, it was as uninteresting, to the general public, as
are the latest city prices to the man who has no invest-
There is a danger that this sort of apathy may extend
to the distressed areas. Indeed as far as one can see, it
has already extended.
The valleys are doomed. Nobody with any preten-
sions to authority any longer attempts to deny it. Even
at the present rate of working, the coal industry will be
completely defunct in South Wales in fifty years.
No other industry exists to which the people may
turn. And so they are fleeing, as though from an in-
The extent of their flight is recorded in the following
DISTRE S S ED AREA
Here are the figures showing the decline of population
during the last ten years, in the Rhondda Urban district.
The area, by the way, is about 23,000 acres.
1937 . 129,900
1938 (estimated) 124,000
Now let us go to Penygraig or Tonypandy, and see
what these figures really mean . . . study the outward
and visible signs of this flight of thirty-five thousand
people from the stricken areas.
It means, to begin with, that about one in every seven
or eight shops is empty. At first, as you walk down the
narrow streets, you are so overwhelmed by the ugliness
and grime and general depression that you do not notice
it . * . you feel like taking to your heels and running
away, anywhere, up into the clean mountains. But
gradually these empty shops begin to have their effect.
The windows are heavily whitewashed. The paint is
peeling from the frames. And in each window hangs a
notice, worded with unconscious irony, to the effect
that this 'desirable' business is to let.
But it is not only the shops that are to let, but the
houses as well. In street after street, uncurtained win-
dows, with cracked glass, stare mournfully out at you.
And that leads us to some more statistics. For here are
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the figures for the decline in rateable value, throughout
this district, during the last eight years:
Those figures tell a tale even more gloomy than you
would think, when you know the human side of it.
Years ago, back in 1921, when the post-war boom was
at its height, there were many families who at last found
it possible to save. When, to a single family, comes the
immense income of six or eight pounds a week, some of
this fabulous wealth must obviously be set aside for a
rainy day. And it was set aside, most of it in house
To-day those thrifty families of the past have seen
their savings go down and down. To keep their property
at all they have to extort rents from other families who,
as they know only too well, are quite unable to afford
it. And this, in a little community where everyone
knows everyone else, where no secrets are hidden.
It does not add to the sweetness of life.
The generalizations which follow are the result of
conversations with miners, ex-miners, schoolmasters,
DISTRE S S ED AREA
pub-keepers, casual * pick-ups' in the street, and such a
diversity of persons that there is not much danger that
they are not reasonably representative.
The main question, about the mind of the younger
generation, was soon answered. For there is no doubt
whatever that over this generation there has spread,
like mildew over an unused building, an appalling
You will gain a fair idea of the mind of the young
unhopeful of the valleys from a conversation. Here is
one which I wrote down a few minutes after it took
X was a boy of sixteen who was always running away.
He had been given a job of a pound a week in London
and he had run away from it, back to South Wales. He
had been sent to a holiday camp with a lot of other boys,
and he had run away from that too.
He was a tall pale boy with large eyes. He stared out
of the window all the time he was talking to me.
MYSELF. Why did you run away from camp? (No
reply) Was it because you were bullied ?
x. Bullied? What is 'bullied'? 1
MYSELF. Knocked about by other boys.
x. Why should they knock me about ?
MYSELF. Well, boys do sometimes, don't they?
x. Not with us. Not unless they want to take some-
thing. And we have none of us anything that they want
MYSELF. Then why was it? Was the food bad?
x. No. The food was good.
MYSELF. Were you homesick, perhaps?
*No attempt is made, in this, or any ensuing conversation to reproduce the
NEWS OF ENGLAND
MYSELF. Well, were you?
x. That is something that rich boys suffer from, isn't
MYSELF. Poor boys suffer from it too. If they are fond
of their families.
x. (With a momentary flash of bitterness) And if they
sleep with their families too ? Four in a bed ? (One up to
X, certainly, with that last remark,}
MYSELF. Then why was it? There must be some reason,
if you didn't want to go home, and weren't actually
x. Not enough freedom.
MYSELF. How do you mean?
x. Not enough freedom.
He flatly refused to enlarge upon this statement. After
he had slouched away, I sought out the teacher who had
been in charge of the camp from which he had fled. He
was a pleasant-looking young man with an engaging
'Not enough freedom!' he said. *So he told you that
too? Well, let me tell you what he did whenever the
boys had a couple of hours to themselves. He went
straight back to bed. 9
' Perhaps he wasn't well . . .' I began.
'Well? I had him medically examined. He's as strong
as a horse. But on the sunniest, brightest days, instead
of rambling about with the other boys, or bathing, or
doing what the rest were doing, he simply retired to bed.
There were about a dozen others who were just as bad.
And when I routed them out . . . well, they didn't like
And here is the interesting point. All of these boys
who seemed to wish to do nothing but sleep all day came
from families where complete unemployment had been
the rule for over ten years.
They had seen their fathers lying in bed every day
till noon, in order to save a meal. They had seen their
elder brothers doing the same thing . . . sleeping by
the fire, sleeping all over the place, afraid to be fully
And they too had come to the' conclusion that life is
but a sleep and a forgetting.
At sixteen years of age!
So much for the younger generation. What about
their fathers ?
You may remember that one of the questions I set out
to answer was 'had the unemployed found any new
way of killing time? Had they discovered any defence
against the ironical blessings of the Age of Leisure?'
Yes. They have found one defence. There is one thing
It is not hope, for he who hopes in the valleys is a
fool, a simpleton who should go back to school, to be
taught that two and two never make five.
It is not drink, for the simple reason that drink has
to be paid for.
It is chance.
The Goddess of Chance, whom the valleys worship,
may occupy the shoddiest of shrines . . . the square of a
cross-word puzzle, the dotted lines of football-pool
sheets, and the like . * but she reigns supreme, none
NEWS OF ENGLAND
the less. She reigns, even though her disciples curse her,
and call her foul names, more often than not. For does
she not sometimes prove her power, in a shower of
golden coins that fall down the chimney, that tinkle so
loudly and clearly that all the valley marvels and re-
news its worship with redoubled ardour?
One of the saddest and most bitter sights I saw in the
distressed areas was in a public library. There, hunched
over magazines and newspapers were men with drawn
faces, gnawing the stumps of pencils so hungrily that
you would think they wanted to swallow them, as in-
deed they may have done. None of them spoke or
moved. They stayed there, crouching, staring into
space. Now and then, one of them would mumble, and
then check himself, as though he had given away a
secret. But for the most part they just stared, racking
their brains (which were pitifully untrained for these
tasks), in search of a word in four letters beginning with
L. The word, most certainly, could not be Life.
Here is the regular routine for a large section of these
men . . . our brothers- On Friday they get their dole.
It is the only day of the week on which they rise before
noon. As soon as they get it, they hurry to the tobacco-
nist for a packet of fags (to last them through the week),
then to the post-office for a two shilling postal order.
Clutching this in their hands, they run home, hand over
the rest of the money to the wife, and sit down over a
football-pool coupon. I can never quite understand
what these football-pool competitions are . . . they
always seem to me more complicated than the higher
mathematics . . , but as far as one can see they are the
sole intellectual exercise, and the only gleam of hope
from the outer world, of thousands of men in the valleys.
DISTRE S S ED AREA
Sit with me in the Labour Club at Penygraig.
The Labour Club is a gaunt, ugly building that looks
on to a narrow street. Immediately opposite is the re-
mains of what was once a post-office, but to-day is an
Over the doorway of the club hangs a picture of Keir
Hardie, and one or two faded cricket groups, of happier
days. In the main room, a few men are drinking beer.
They sip it very slowly, as though it was the last they
would ever get.
Listen to Mr. Mainwaring, the miners' M.P. He sits
down beside me with his beer, pushes his hat back, and
thumps the table with his fist.
Mr. Mainwaring is in a bad temper, and I don't blame
him. For he has just returned from a meeting which, in
his humble opinion (he uses the word 'humble' with
considerable irony) shows that the special commission-
ers of H.M. Government have not even begun to grasp
the problem of the valleys.
'Here are some things you can tell people,' says Mr.
Mainwaring, clenching his fists,
'You can tell them that we don't want any more
public-schoolboys coming down here to teach us how to
employ our leisure. We don't want leisure. We want
'You can tell them that there's no solution to the
problem by just "increasing production". Even at the
present rate of production the mines will be exhausted
in fifty years. If you speed up you'll only bring the day
of reckoning closer.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
*You can tell them that there is no alternative em-
ployment down here. No factories. No industries of any
sort. And none are being started.
' You can tell them that we have the sites, we have the
men, we have the markets. And we have the will.*
All too tragically true, Mr. Mainwaring. But how
long, I wonder, will the men of South Wales even have
the will, if this rot is allowed to continue?
OOMETHING MUST BE DONE/ said King Edward VIII,
at the conclusion of his brief tour of the distressed areas.
It was not a very profound statement, but it caught
the popular imagination.
Whether Edward would ever have been able to imple-
ment his words must remain a matter of conjecture.
However, they still echo in and out of the valleys. People
still recall them, wonder if they meant anything; won-
der, most of all, if something is ever going to be done.
There are beginnings. Let us admit that. Relief ex-
peditions are formed, as though to some remote island.
And then, a school springs up, or a club, or a camp. The
brightness of these little places is deeply affecting. They
are like flowers on a slag-heap.
Let us walk to the nursery of Ynyscynon, which has
the special blessing of the Board of Education. I believe
that is the right way to spell it, though a few y*s more
or less would not make much difference.
This nursery is built on an ancient coal-tip. Not a
NEWS OF ENGLAND
very healthy place, you might think. But it is not as
bad as it sounds, for nature, the universal healer, covers
even these immense rubbish heaps of slag with green
grass, as the years roll by, and since Ynyscynon is
fairly high up it is out of the worst of it.
A little lower down it is a different matter. As we
approach the nursery we see a coal-black stream me-
andering through banks of mud. It has an unpleasant
smell. I sniff, and look inquiringly at my companion.
*A lot of filth from the slaughter-houses pours into
that stream/ she explains.
'It can't be very healthy/
'Healthy? The children bathe in it, all the summer. 5
I stare at the stream incredulously, to see if I had been
maligning it. No. It is jet black. And it stinks.
'The children bathe in it/ I repeat, as though repeti-
tion made it easier to believe.
We pass on. A ragged man shuffled down the hill,
trundling an odd sort of barrow made out of a packing-
case and a bicycle wheel. In it three tin cans jangle
'What is he doing?' I ask.
'Selling paraffin oil/
'To whom? And why?*
'To very poor people who cannot afford candles.
They buy a pennyworth at a time. He makes quite a
But I don't see, really. The ragged man doesn't seem
real, somehow. He is like something out of a Rowland-
son cartoon. He doesn't seem to fit in to Britain in 1938.
'What is that sheep doing there?'
(I apologize for these spasmodic questions. But such a
lot of odd things seemed to be happening at once, as we
climbed the hill.)
I pointed to it. A very dirty, thin sheep was poking
its head through a front door, nosing at some potato-
peelings in a bucket. I am not accustomed to sheep
careering out of front doors in search of potato-peelings.
Hence the question.
'Oh, it has just strolled down from the mountain, I
suppose. Lots of them do. The grass is very poor, and
they come down for what they can get from the dust-
bins. You will see plenty of them about, wandering in
and out of the houses/
I did. Somehow it seemed to add to the general un-
reality of the whole scene.
The visit to this school was one of the most moving of
all my experiences in the valley. For here one saw, for
the first time, what life might be for the children, if only
'something were done'.
All little children are aristocrats ... or should be.
They all have the royal blood of innocence. They all
have a natural grace, a debonair assurance ... or should
have. It is only acute poverty that turns them into the
shivering, haunted little things that one sees in the
In this school the children go back to childhood, and
in going back, they regain the aristocracy which they
have lost. You may think that children of two to seven
could never have left childhood. You would be wrong.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
At home they are just undeveloped adults. They are not
Here, as soon as a child enters the school, he is given
a symbol which he carries with him till he leaves. For
instance, a boy may be a lion, a girl may be a butterfly.
Everything the boy owns or uses has the lion stamp,
the little towel with which he dries his face in the bath-
room, the mug from which he drinks his milk, the spoon
he must use for his porridge. In this way, very tiny
children, after a few weeks, learn orderly habits which
they could never learn if they merely thought in terms
of names and numbers.
That is one small example of the creative imagination
which animates the conduct of this school. Another is
to be observed in what I can only call ' the suggestion of
soap *. Many of the children come from homes where
cleanliness is associated only with necessity . . . they
hear their father cursing as he washes off the worst filth,
they hear their mother groaning over the front door-
step. But here, all over the walls, soap is sublimated.
You see pictures of bright pink babies blowing bubbles
in baths, of boys grinning over foaming washtubs, of
girls stirring up the lather with such delight that you
would think they were going to eat it.
What happens ? The children run down the corridors.
Pause, look up at these pictures with great staring eyes
and suddenly decide that they too must have fun like
that. As a result, it is a good deal easier to get a child
into the bathtub than out of it.
The whole school is run on lines like this. And as you
pass through the rooms, and see the happy faces, and the
eager little bodies, you are more than ever struck by the
monstrous paradox that so many of the bodies should
B LACK DIAMONDS
be in tattered clothes. You see the face of a boy that is
like the face of a prince or a poet ... he has hair of gold,
immense violet eyes, a fine forehead, and hands that,
even in their immaturity, suggest * breeding *. And then
you see the darns in his jersey, the threadbare patches
in his coat. And you realize that when he leaves this
school he will go back into the shadows, and be lost. The
little prince will turn, day by day, into just another
However it isn't quite as bad as that. For, in the
homes of the children who are being taught at this
school, a gradual change is making itself felt. The chil-
dren are teaching the parents. That is what is happen-
'The children are too clever for us now/ exclaim the
parents. But there is pride rather than resentment in
Have you ever seen a baby's toothbrush ? In all proba-
bility you have. It does not strike you as strange . . . this
absurdly small object that looks as if it came out of a
But it struck the babies* mothers as exceedingly
strange. What was it? A toothbrush? And must baby
use it every day? Three times a day? And ought I to get
one too ?
Within a little while after the founding of the school
the mothers were going into Woolworth's to buy six-
penny toothbrushes for themselves. Their babies had
told them to.
Their babies also told them that they should spread
a cloth on the dinner-table. Again, at first, it seemed the
strangest idea to the mothers. Who ever heard of a cloth
on the dinner-table ? Why, baby might spill things on it.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
But then they found that baby didn't spill things any
more. He had been taught better at school. And he
missed the cloth, and banged his spoon on the bare
table. So the mothers went out, and got little cheap
cotton tablecloths, with bright blue and red checks on
them. Somehow, it seemed to cheer things up at meal-
I did not wish to write the section that follows. It does
not make pretty reading, by any means.
But I felt impelled to write it, not only because the
average reader does not realize that such sights can be
witnessed in 'prosperous* Britain, in 1938, but also
because the scene itself took place in the home of a child
who was at school at Ynyscynon.
It is to homes like these that the children must return,
after their few hours of sunshine in the school.
To homes like these, where in one room, before their
eyes, all the tragedies of birth and of life were enacted,
with no attempt at privacy, nor indeed, any possibility
of it. And not only the tragedies of life, but the final
tragedy of death.
An hour after I had left Ynyscynon, I stood by the
deathbed of John Morgan, an ex-miner.
His small son is on his way home from school. In a few
moments he will join the group round the bedside, this
boy of five. It is intolerable that a child should witness
such agony. Still more intolerable when you are told
that he has been forced not only to witness it, but to
hear it, for a period of six weeks, day and night. For
John Morgan is taking a long time to die. But this time
he is dying in earnest, in such torture that his groans
seem to tear your own heart. For he has cancer of the
lungs, tuberculosis, and double pneumonia, and a man
does not breathe easily in that state, even if he is strong
and tries to be brave.
He is dying by the open window. All the street can see
him, for the window-curtains have long ago been
Round the bedside stand eight people. It is a tiny
room with a low, dirty ceiling, but it is the only sitting-
room which the family possess. There are two boxes of
bedrooms upstairs. One box sleeps five, and the other
The light is failing, and John Morgan is failing too.
The pain is almost past bearing. 'Oh God, Oh God! 5 he
cries. The whole room is permeated with pain. We stand
and look at each other. Our lips move in prayer.
An old woman bends over him and wipes the sweat
from his forehead with a clean rag. His face twists to a
smile, a smile so grotesque, so tortured, that I dare not
look at it. It goes as soon as it came. There are only
these slow, rattling breaths, that come from the very
depths of pain, each breath a sword of pain, slashing his
A little ragged boy runs into the room. He is David,
home from school. He takes a glance at his father, then
he notices me. He whispers to his brother, asking who I
am. The brother shakes his head. He does not know-
The little boy throws his satchel into the corner, folds
his arms, and stares at me. I notice that he keeps on
blinking nervously, and that his shoulders twitch. It is
almost as though he had been shell-shocked.
Well, it is not surprising that he is, shall we say
NEWS OF ENGLAND
'nervous 5 . For six weeks this has been going on. Yes,
John Morgan has taken all that time to die.
He has taken all that time to die, in the presence of
his children, and his wife, and her mother. They have
lived, night and day, to the rhythm of his pain. The
little boys and girls have started up in the night, clutch-
ing each other, staring at each other in the dark, while
from the room below comes that hideous throaty noise.
Like an animal screaming. But an animal that screams:
'My God ... my God/
*Do not worry. It was not as bad for them as it would
be for us.'
Actually, a man said to me, long afterwards. He said
it in the outer world, when John Morgan was dead and
buried, far away, in the cheap coffin for which his wife
had collected, going from door to door, seeking sixpences
in the rain.
*No/ he said, 'it would not be nearly as bad for them
as for "us ".'
By which he meant that those figures, standing there
in the fading light by the side of the man they loved,
were only dummy figures. Puppets of poverty. He meant
that poverty had robbed them of real feelings, dulled
their senses, anaesthetized their nerves.
I wonder, I should have thought that poverty sharp-
ened the nerves. Made pain more exquisite and pleasure
For look at the boy standing by the doorway. He is
the second son. He is a fair-haired slip of a youth, just
eighteen. Had he been born in a different bedroom, he
would now be getting ready to go to Oxford. He would
be exceptionally attractive, and he would be aware
of the fact. He would consider that life had grossly
B LAC K DIAMONDS
thwarted him if he were not given a sports car, and an
adequate wardrobe, and quantities of charming clothes.
And, of course, adoration.
But here . . . his opposite number, leaning against the
doorway with his cap over his eyes . . . what of him?
Well, first of all, he is a father. And the little girl by his
side, with the peaked face, and the plucked eyebrows
and the grimy forehead, is his wife. Also aged eighteen.
They married on the dole. And the bundle that she
clutches in her arms is the result.
Does the fact that you are a father at eighteen 'dull
the nerves ? ' Does the fact that you have listened to the
cries of your child, at an age when your own childhood
is still a vivid memory, make you 'callous'? Does the
fact that your youth has been stunted and starved make
you impervious to pain ?
The obvious thing to write would be 'I wonder.' But
I don't wonder. I know. I know that this suggestion is a
living lie. A lie of the comfortable against the poor.
Poverty doesn't dull the senses. It enhances them.
I wish that any man who might question that state-
ment could have stood with me by the bedside of John
Morgan, while he was dying. He would have seen the
answer, written plainly on the faces around him.
He would have seen it in the twitching eyes of that
little boy home from school. In the strange, frozen frown
of the girl-wife's plucked eyebrows. In the mad, resent-
ful twist of the old woman's mouth, as she whispered
words of broken comfort to the dying man. In the blank
mask of the mother's face, a mask that switched this
way and that, in the dusk, like something pulled by
John Morgan died at eight o'clock that night. The
NEWS OF E NGL AND
street-lamp shone straight down on his face, so that all
the passers-by could see. You may remember, the cur-
tains had been pawned.
And the family were very quiet about it. They said
very little. There was just the drawing of a sheet, and a
few harsh, ugly sobs from a woman by the fire.
Down the Mine
QUESTION remained unanswered. I tried to
answer it before leaving the distressed areas.
I wanted to know the secret of what can only be called
the ( nostalgia of the mine'. It is a sort of homesickness
which seizes the Welsh miner, even when he has left the
district, and obtained remunerative employment else-
where. It is so strong that in far more cases than are
generally recorded it will cause a man to chuck up his
job, to come home, and to hang about the pit-head on
the chance of a few odd days in the pit.
Why? It baffled me. Coal-mining surely was dirty,
unhealthy, dangerous, and underpaid. Yet 'once a
miner, always a miner'. What was the secret, hidden
The only way to find out, presumably, was to go down
and investigate for myself. So on the following day I
found myself pulling on a grimy pair of overalls at the
pit-head, sticking on an old cap, grabbing a safety lamp,
and following my guide into the lift.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
Certainly the first few moments gave no clue to the
mystery of the fascination. We stood in a rattling, black
cage, open at the sides. We grabbed a steel bar. A signal
was given, and down we shot . . . down, down, dropping
like a stone, with the air growing warmer, and a mist
of coal dust whirling into our eyes.
'Out we get/
I stepped out. Before us stretched a tunnel, dimly lit.
A few black figures were moving, here and there.
As we began to walk, I noticed how quiet it all was.
Hushed, as though the mine held a great secret. Our
feet sank into the piled dust, as into a thick carpet. And
there were strange winds that blew down the tunnels,
winds that brought with them a smell that was entirely
new, faint but persistent, the smell of coal dust, and
sweat, and ancient poison, and of ... well, the only
word that suggests itself is * deepness 1 . A smell that had
nothing whatever to do with the outer world.
But mostly it was the quiet that affected me, these
first few minutes. We passed men who appeared only
as a pair of bloodshot eyes and a row of white teeth,
standing against the wall, and when they spoke their
voices were flat and seemed to come from a great dis-
We trudged on. The guide went in front and the light
from his lantern cast weird beams over the roof and
Suddenly, I started. A train seemed to be approach-
ing. It came nearer and nearer, but I could not see it.
Involuntarily, I pressed back against the wall. What
was happening? It must be upon us now, roaring, steam-
ing, only a few yards away. But it was invisible!
Then, I realized what was happening. The train was
DOWN THE MINE
overhead, in the tunnel above. It roared past, and soon
was only an echo in the distance.
'That's what we call the ghost train/ said the guide,
with a grin.
And I thought, as we went along, how very apt this
expression was. For the whole mine made me think of
those mystery houses that are found on pleasure-
beaches. You pay sixpence and shuffle down dark corri-
dors where the ground gives way under your feet, and
eerie lights flash in your eyes and mysterious hands
grip you by the throat. Yes, a coal-mine is very like
that. Only more so.
We had not been going long before one mystery of the
mines was solved for me.
I should explain that all down these narrow tunnels
are tram-tracks. The ' trams' are really large open
wagons, hooked together. They are loaded with coal
at the coal-face and then sent hurtling back on their
journey to the pit-head. They are extremely heavy, and
when they rush by, you are thankful for the man-holes
in the walls which enable you to spring out of the way.
I had constantly read in the papers of accidents where
men had been crushed to death, or horribly mangled by
these trams. And I could not understand why. After all,
in these tunnels you can see a long way ahead. You can
hear these things rushing towards you, even if you
aren't looking out for them. Since there was a regular
series of man-holes at every few yards (by man-hole I
mean a sort of niche in the wall), why was it that acci-
dents occurred ?
NEWS OF ENGLAND
There is a strange answer, but it is a true one. The
explanation is that as you walk down those tunnels,
something curious happens to you. You begin to dream.
You are partially hypnotized ... by the dust, the dark-
ness, and the depth. Even I, who had my ears open, and
who was concentrating a trained observation on every
detail which might prove of interest, found myself
wandering along in a sort of dream, as though there
were an anaesthetic in the air.
I was glad, therefore, when the guide paused, looked
back and called out, 'Like to see the ponies?'
I nodded. We went up a little passage. There were
six or seven stalls. In each was a pony. They were a good
deal larger than I had thought they would be, and they
looked plump, healthy and contented.
All the same, as I ran my hand down the neck of one
of those ponies, and felt the warm smooth skin, and
listened to the absurd, affectionate snuffling which he
made, I would have given anything to lead him outside,
up into the fresh air, where he could roll in the green
'They aren't blind, you know,' said my guide.
'They're dazzled when they come up, naturally. But
their eyes are perfectly good.'
I felt something warm brush against my leg. I looked
down and saw a little white cat. I lifted it up. It had a
purr like an open exhaust and it did all the best cat
things . . . dabbing at my chin with a paw, jumping on
my shoulder and pushing a cold wet nose violently into
my ear, clawing with great determination (still purring)
when I lifted it down, and then walking away with the
It was a snow-white cat, by the way. It must have
DOWN THE MINE
put in a good deal of overtime in the laundry, to keep
so clean in this atmosphere.
It was here, by the way, coming out of the stables,
that I first saw white cockroaches.
Cockroaches have never been my favourite form of
domestic pet. There is something sinister about them,
and he who crunches a cockroach has a terrible feeling
of breaking bones, of murdering something foul but
very much alive and sentient.
But if ordinary black cockroaches are sinister, white
cockroaches are far more so. There is something un-
speakably evil about them. They have the unhealthy
pallor of fungi in dark woods, those fungi that you feel
the sun has never touched, not because it cannot reach
them, but because even sunlight would be poisoned if it
were to come into contact with that damp and evil
And here were the white cockroaches crawling round
my ankle, getting very near to the gap between my
socks and my overalls. I bent down and brushed them
off. As I did so I felt slightly sick.
No sign of the mysterious fascination yet, you may
observe. And when are we going to get to the coal ?
It was what I was asking myself. We had crawled
through arches where special blankets were hung to
regulate the ventilation. Jumped on to escalators carry-
ing coal back to the pit-head. Turned corner after
corner. But still no sign of the coal itself.
It made one realize that even when he is in the mine,
NEWS OF ENGLAND
a man has a long way to go before he can begin to make
any money. A long way and a hard way too.
For as the road plunged down, I noticed that the
girders which arched the roof, began to be bent by the
immense, unceasing pressure above them. A little
farther back they had been perfectly regular. But here
some of them looked as though a giant had taken them
and bent them across his knee. In some cases they had
gone so far that we had to bend down in order to avoid
knocking the sagging roof with our heads.
'Aren't these dangerous?'
No. My guide assured me that they were not. And
since this is one of the best regulated mines in the area,
I took his word for it. All the same it is a reminder of the
constant risks in which these men work.
Unless we speed things up we shall never get there.
So imagine more tunnels, deeper and deeper, narrower
and narrower, an increasing racket of noise, and at last
we turn a corner, and are face to face with the coal
It is impossible to look, for the first time, at this small
black square, glistening in the artificial light, without a
feeling of deep emotion. Here, on this foundation, an
Empire has been built. From here has come the power
which has sent great ships over the seven seas, has
levelled mountains, spanned rivers, created life in
deserts. All from this small black square. And now, the
square is near its end. A few more years and the last of
it will be shovelled into the trams and will rattle its
way to the pit-head. And then the great tunnels will be
DOWN THE MINE
deserted, and the lights will flicker out, and the pit will
be closed and the black rats and the white cockroaches
will reign supreme.
However, that day is not yet. There is fierce activity
on the right, which is the coal-face proper. In order to
get to it, we have to crawl on hands and knees.
This, as far as I was concerned, was the most un-
pleasant part of the whole business. Even if you suffer
from claustrophobia you can keep it in check as long
as you are able to stand up. But to leave even the
tunnels behind, and to crawl into what was only a
glorified drain-pipe, with only a few props keeping an
entire Welsh hill from crashing down on your head . , .
(for that is how it seemed) . . . was not my idea of fun.
We crawled about ten yards, past men like negroes,
crouching, lying on their backs. And then we crawled
Now, in case this has all meant nothing to you (as
most descriptions of mines, in the past, have meant
nothing to me), would you mind pausing a moment, in
order to make a simple physical experiment? Would you
mind getting out of your chair, kneeling down on one
knee, so that your chin almost touches your knee?
Would you then, please, try to imagine that if you lift
your head even a few inches it will hit a roof which is
nearly half a mile thick? And then, still further, think
of yourself as holding in your hand a heavy pick, with
which you have to split lumps from the coal-face?
It might become a little boring, don't you think, to
hold this position for long, even by your own fireside?
But imagine holding it day in and day out, in an
atmosphere so thick with dust that your lungs are caked
with it, in semi-darkness to the sound of a pandemo-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
nium of picks, shovels, loaded belts of coal, and rattling
Always, remember, with the knowledge that it is a
half-hour's walk to the entrance and that all along the
tunnels through which you must pass on your way
back, there lurks danger . . . danger of leaking gases,
of subsidence, of runaway trams . . . danger in a
If you can carry out this little exercise, in the spirit
as well as in the letter, I do not think you will be inclined
to suggest that 2 8s. a week is an extravagant wage
for such a life.
Interlude at Lincoln
PER A VISIT TO WALES any man who cares for his
country . . . any man, indeed, who is not quite indifferent
to the sufferings of his fellow-men ... is bound to try to
'do something about it'.
The point is ... what can he do ?
I myself, for some time, did a number of futile things.
I tried to get people jobs. I experimented with the idea
of yet another club. I wrote fierce articles and gave away
a certain amount of money. It was all pretty useless.
Then I thought to myself, 'It might be better to try
to learn a little more. To see if, among all the litter of
cures for unemployment with which this country is
scattered, there might not be something, somewhere,
somehow, which would give me a clue to work upon.
It might come in a quite unexpected way. From a few
lines in a letter from a man on the dole. From a few
paragraphs in a book which the reviewers had neglected.
From a chance contact with some obscure local official.
Even from my own head. 5
After all, one had been given to understand that the
NEWS OF E NGLAND
inspiration which caused Stevenson to invent the steam
engine came to him in an idle moment when he was
watching a kettle boiling on the hearth. Might not some
equally trivial clue provide me with the inspiration to
invent a cure for unemployment ?
It was all very naive and childish, no doubt. But after
Wales, one feels so strongly that one doesn't care about
making oneself look a fool. And so I read, with especial
assiduity, every letter, book, pamphlet and circular
which bore on this question. As a working journalist I
had a wide choice. I receive an average of thirty letters
from Social Credit fans, every week. I am the particular
target of the gentlemen who attribute the world's unrest
to an incomplete understanding of the Tribes of Israel,
how, where and when they were lost, and how, where
and when they will be rediscovered. I am not neglected
by the exponents of f orthodox' finance, the champions
of arty-crafty back-to-spinning-wheel philosophy, and
the old-fashioned Manchester school (which still, odd
as it may seem, flourishes in this country). I even have
letters, neatly typed, from anarchists in Russell Square.
So there was no lack of material from which to choose.
It would take too long to explain how, at last, I heard
about the Lincoln experiment. It seemed to me to be
at once something very new and something very old.
It seemed as new as this morning's paper and as old
as Christianity itself.
And so, I went to Lincoln. I was not very sanguine,
I had seen too many unemployment "schemes', in prac-
tice, to have any high hopes. Had I not sat in the
window of an apartment looking out over Central Park,
New York, and watched fifteen men move the same
small tree to seven different places, over a period of
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
two weeks? The tree did not need to be moved at all.
It was perfectly all right where it was. Even if it had
to be moved, one man could have dug it up and trans-
planted it in half an hour. As it was, fifteen men took
two weeks to do it, at the end of which period the tree
gave up the ghost and died. A very pretty example of
what happens when governments start to 'make' work.
All the same, Lincoln seemed to be worth a visit.
It did not seem so for very long.
Perhaps it was the horse's fault.
It was a wooden horse, and it stared at me with
A wizened little man poked it in the back. It rocked
backwards and forwards, still staring. After five or six
rockings, it came to rest.
'They're very popular with the kiddies,' said the
wizened little man.
'Yes. I'm sure they are.'
'We've made nearly fifty for Christmas.'
I wanted to go away and curse somebody. The old
sense of futility had suddenly returned.
It was all wrong to feel like this, of course. For the
principle behind the scheme, which I will soon explain
in greater detail, was 'service for others'. The bold
spirits of Lincoln had actually dared to try to put
Christianity into practice in order to cure unemploy-
ment. I still believe that they are nearer to a solution
than anybody else.
NEWS OF E NGLAND
In spite of that, when I saw that horse, I shuddered.
The barn-like room was cold.
I took an opportunity to stroll away.
We were in a big recreation room in the deserted part
of a factory. It had been kindly lent, by the owners,
to the People's Service Club, which arose out of the
Workers' Educational Association. The W.E.A., as
we shall call this association, is a magnificent organiza-
tion which deserves our deep respect. So are the Service
Clubs. I believe that they may prove, in the end, to
offer the only solution to unemployment which we are
likely to see in this country.
But I had to record that passing mood of desolation,
of hopelessness. It is probably familiar to all those who
have ever done any social work.
All the morning I had been wandering round work-
shops where unemployed men had been working . . .
for nothing. I had seen them repairing children's boots,
for nothing. Making bed-rests for invalids, little wooden
cupboards, chairs, tables, for nothing, I had seen these
men, who normally would have been lounging on a
bench or lying in bed till noon, working happily, feeling
that they were being of service to mankind. I had seen a
holiday house that they erected, on a piece of land which
some kind woman had lent them. It was all splendid.
And yet . . . that damnable frisson shook me when the
old man showed me the rocking-horse. I suddenly felt
that all this work was unreal. It was like trying to
entertain grown men with games for children. I found
myself asking what will happen when every child has a
rocking-horse, when every invalid has a bed-rest, when
every woman has all the tables and chairs she wants.
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
I stared up at a row of photographs on the wall. Each
photograph showed a nice old man sitting in a chair.
And underneath each picture was printed a label, in-
forming the world that in return for fifty years' faithful
service in this factory (in one of whose deserted rooms
we were now standing), Mr. X had been presented with
a gold medal and an arm-chair.
Fifty years! And at the end of it, a gold medal and
an arm-chair. It is more than many employers do for
their workmen. But somehow, it does not seem . . .
shall we say? ... too much!
In some ways it might have been better not to have
published the first part of this chapter, for it may seem
to spread an air of futility over what follows. However,
we will let it stand. It will be fairly clear, before we
have finished, that there is nothing futile about the
This experiment (of which some knowledge is essen-
tial to any social historian of modern England) arose
out of the discovery that pioneer educational work
among the unemployed was quite useless. To quote
the present Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, who has been
one of the keenest workers in the Lincoln experiment:
'Unemployment made men so listless and hopeless that
they could take no interest in any kind of study. What
weighed most on these men 9 s minds was that they had no
status or function in the community. They had lost very
often their Trade Union connection, the ordinary social
NEWS OF EN GLAND
intercourse which a common job implies, the consciousness
of doing something respected in the community. They had
the sense of hopelessness in gradually losing their chance
of getting back to work as their hands got soft. No one
wanted them; they felt themselves regarded as nuisances.
The whole situation was summed up in the terrible phrase
that "they felt like ghosts.'" 1
'They felt like ghosts!' It is indeed a tragic phrase,
and a grim reflection on this Age of Leisure, which has
been the dream of philosophers throughout the cen-
turies, only to prove a nightmare in the end. But ghosts,
when they are able-bodied ghosts, haunting the Labour
exchanges, can be not only tragic but troublesome.
For there comes a time when they cease from wailing
and weeping, and begin to break things up. They were
beginning to break things up in Lincoln. And that brings
us to one of the most fascinating stories in the whole
experiment. I feel it ought to be printed like this, . . .
The Lincoln Gang
And how it was
who was an
Modern European Thought.
iUnemployment and Education. The Metcalf Memorial Lecture by A. D.
Lindsay, Master of Balliol. Sedgwick & Jackson, Ltd.
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
It is the sort of thing that could only happen in
England. It is, to me, a fascinating story, but even if
you find it dull, it is worth mating an effort to read it,
for three reasons.
Firstly because these gangs are springing up all over
Britain. If you consider this an alarmist statement, it is
only a proof of the efficiency of the British press in
keeping such unpleasant things out of the papers.
Secondly because the rise of this gang affords a classic
example of the effect of the slow poison of unemploy-
ment working on minds and bodies which were other-
wise clean and healthy.
Thirdly because its decline was brought about not
only by improved industrial conditions (which might,
after all, have afforded an opportunity for reaping richer
rewards from crime), but by non-police methods which,
in their understanding of the psychology of youth,
showed an intuition that amounted to genius.
It was the summer of 1933. For over three years a
large number of the factories of Lincoln had been idle.
Of course prosperity, according to the politicians, was
'just around the street corner', but if you had to stand
all day around the street corner yourself, year in and
year out, longing for anything to do with your hands,
your feet or your head, there was not much comfort to
be gained from the phrases of politicians.
So, at least, thought a number of young men in
Lincoln (which, we must remind you, was neither better
nor worse than a thousand other towns). And having
thought so, they looked round for something to de-
They fixed their eyes on the workshop of the People's
NEWS OF ENGLAND
It might be thought that if ever there were an institu-
tion that was safe from the malevolent attentions of a
gang of unemployed, the People's Service Club would
be that institution. It had been established for their
benefit. It was being conducted, with selfless devotion,
by persons whose sole idea was to help. Moreover, it
was a success.
But these youths were suffering ... as tens of thou-
sands of their fellows all over the world are suffering
. . . from a revenge-upon-society complex. And so they
banded themselves together under a Leader (a young
man of great intelligence), and began to make them-
selves objectionable. Insinuating themselves into the
Club (in which, of course, they were welcomed in the
same spirit as all the other unemployed), they proceeded
to the following acts of violence. , . .
They broke all windows.
Sabotaged the machinery.
'Blew out' the electric dynamo.
Sawed through legs of chairs and other furniture.
Slit up sacks and curtains, etc.
They stole tools, wood, nails, paint, anything else of
value they could lay hands on, and invented swindling
methods of obtaining more than their share of any-
thing which the Club shared out to its members.
They threw nails at the older members working at
the bench, and threw large files past the face of the
superintendent. They used every insult and ingenious
nastiness to annoy the superintendent, and the senior
members. They wrote up obscene phrases on the
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
walls and shouted them at young women passing the
work-shops on their way to business.
And this is the cue for the entrance of the young lady
from Oxford, Miss Alice Cameron, M.A., Lecturer on
Modern European Thought, Sociology, International
Relations and other subjects which, one imagines, are
not ideally suited as a preparation for dealing with
gangs of roughs.
Miss Cameron had been at Lincoln for some years.
She had a distinguished educational career at Oxford,
and from her very agreeable appearance one would guess
that this is not the only sphere in which she might have
shone. She preferred to bury herself at Lincoln, working
for the people. And as long as there are women of her
calibre in our country, the dangers of revolution are
When things began to get unbearable, and when it
was evident that these acts of petty destruction and
annoyance might well lead, before long, to acts of serious
crime, Miss Cameron decided to act.
She acted in a totally unexpected way*
Instead of telephoning for the police and having the
gang expelled, either to prison, or to their old positions
at the street corner, she tackled them in person, single-
handed. She called them together and said: 'So you're
a gang, are you ? All right, agreed. Only, if you're a gang,
you've at least got to be loyal to your boss.' If she did
not actually add 'get me, kids?' in so many words, the
expression was at least implicit.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
It is distinctly amusing to compare Miss Cameron's
actual methods with the demure paraphrase of them as
recorded in a paper which she has kindly lent me, en-
titled * Paper on experiments with young unemployed
men aged 18-30 years/ In this discreet document,
the above is described as follows: 'We decided to treat
them as a gang, since there was a certain group loyalty
observable in their organization, and if we had tried to
break them up we should have aroused this loyalty
against us, and complicated the position both psycholog-
ically and practically/
The next steps taken by the indefatigable Miss
Cameron were ethically deplorable but extremely effec-
tive. First she became a member of the gang herself,
and secondly she had resort to bribery. At least, that is
how it seems to me. True, in the aforesaid paper she
airily denies that she bribed the gang, but as she offered
them a free trip to London, within six weeks, on con-
dition that they did not breathe a word of it to anyone
else, the distinction seems to me a little obscure. It was
this offer which got her into the gang, or, as she more
delicately puts it, 'gave me a place in their counsels, of
which I made use to fraternize with them'.
She certainly did. The situation is bizarre . . . almost
incredible. But after some months of this fraternization,
the thefts, the sabotage, and the obscenities noticeably
We now reach the second stage. Miss Cameron shall
tell it in her own words. And if you read between the
lines, it becomes a good deal more dramatic than the
somewhat sober phrasing would suggest.
'Second Stage. In order to appeal to and rouse their
gang loyalty, and to give expression to their desire to
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
impress the community (which was, I believed, one of
the motives leading to destruction), I suggested that
they should demand better playgrounds for the children
of the city. I also suggested that if the Council would
provide these playgrounds, they should make swings,
see-saws, and other equipment, and present it to the
city. This somewhat high-handed and lofty manner of
treating the City Council was very attractive to them/
I shall perhaps be pardoned if I suggest that it was
probably very attractive to Miss Cameron too. At all
events, things worked like magic. They got the press
interested, and they were received by the Mayor.
It would be too long a story to tell how the gang was
eventually mastered, and its members turned into re-
spectable and useful members of the community. There
were many set-backs of course. You cannot repair the
moral ravages of years of unemployment in a few weeks.
The Leader deserted, was coaxed back again. Tools
continued to disappear, and were returned not through
threats, but through a growing realization that it was
not 'the thing' to let Miss Cameron down. Her work
might really be described as a gradual cultivation, in
the gang, of that much-abused quality which, in other
circles, is described as *the public-school spirit'. And
it was done by almost superhuman patience, by brilliant
intuition, and by a constant concentration on work of
So why the feeling of depression with which this
chapter opened ?
NEWS OF ENGLAND
For a very simple reason. If unemployment is to be
treated, on Lincoln lines, throughout the country, at
least forty thousand Miss Camerons will be needed to
organize it. And I do not believe there are forty thou-
sand Miss Camerons. I do not even believe there are two.
Moreover, even if forty thousand Miss Camerons
were available, what happens in the end? Miss Cam-
eron's experiment ended in all her gang getting em-
ployment, not because she had transformed them,
individually, but because the industrial boom set the
factories of Lincoln working again. What happens when
the depression comes back, as it is coming now?
More public works. And when the public works are
These are frightening questions. It would be much
pleasanter not to ask them. Most people don't. And
even those who do seldom give an honest answer.
We have become accustomed, in the proud democra-
cies of England and America, to immense unemploy-
ment figures. If, in England, the impossible were to
happen, and those figures were to descend to within
the neighbourhood of a million, a shout of joy would
go up from the whole country. Just think of it ... only
a million able-bodied fellow citizens condemned to stand
at the street corner for the rest of their lives ! A paltry
million eager, willing, intelligent adults ... a mere
million sentenced to slow death by desuetude! Were
such a miracle ever to occur, were the ranks of the un-
employed ever to be reduced to this fleabite of a mere
million, it would indeed be a day for rejoicing. The bells
of Saint Paul's would, it is hoped, be pealed in honour
of the event, and the King's speech would be full of
pompous phrases in its celebration.
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
But no such happy prospect awaits us. Rather are we
faced, if we would only be honest, if we would only have
the courage to look to the end of the decade instead of
to the end of the stock exchange account . . . we are
faced with the prospect of at least two, and possibly
five, million unemployed. And if we go farther still, and
use a really good economic telescope, we may realize,
with a shock, that on the horizon of unwritten history
there is gathering an even greater army, an army which,
from this point of view, approaches dangerously near
the ten million mark.
Perhaps the reason for the depression with which this
chapter began may now be a little more apparent.
For the question really boils down to this . . . ' For how
long a period can you keep how large a number of men
employed in making how many crates of rocking-horses for
how many poor children? '
And when every poor child has a rocking-horse, and
every poor old woman has a hand-painted water-bottle,
and when every poor old man has a hand-carved pipe-
rack, what then?
In other words, when the swiftly-swelling crowd of
men who are being given things to tinker with in the
courtyard, to distract their attention from the noise
of the factory inside , . . when there are no more things
for them to tinker with, what happens?
You may say that I have chosen petty examples,
that there will always be work to do in the world, for
all its teeming millions.
Yes ? Let me give you a little example of the reason
why I think such a supposition to be criminally opti-
NEWS OF ENGLAND
At a recent international fair, there was a Robot.
Quite a nice Robot. Clean, glistening, amiable of ex-
pression. A very willing Robot too. For if you put five
cents into his stomach, he spoke. He gave orders to
another Robot, who was sitting in an angular position
on a plough not far away.
As soon as this Robot received his orders, a metal
arm was extended, various wheels began to revolve,
and the plough began to plough. Naturally it did not
plough very far, for five cents, but the fact that it had
ploughed at all provided you with a very useful object
lesson in the present-day mechanization of industry.
Now it has been calculated, not by freaks, but by
sober men of business, that if the fields of the United
States of America were planned according to a standard
pattern and if a sufficient number of Robot ploughs were
provided by a paternal administration, one man, press-
ing one button in Washington, could set in motion
machinery that would plough two-thirds of the acreage
of the American Continent.
Needless to say, it would need a considerable amount
of preliminary organization. And needless to say, the
idea, at the moment, sounds like one of the more fiercely
adolescent dreams of Mr. H. G. Wells. At the same time
, . . is there any answer to the question: 'How can you
stop the advance of the machine?'
One day the last swamp will be drained, the last road
built. One day the final ornament will be laid on the
final tower, whether it be a tower to a hall of * leisure '
or a tower to a house of industry. One day there will be
no new lands to conquer, no fresh fields to plough. One
day the last dust of the last slum will have blown away,
INTERLUDE AT LINCOLN
and will be remembered only as the hues of some sun-
set, on some horizon soon forgotten.
And then, what will happen, in this land of the future ?
What sounds will break the silence, except the steady
beating of the machines ? The tap, tap, tap, of millions
of men, carving wooden ornaments that nobody wants?
The scream of scales ascending and descending, executed
by musicians who will have nobody to whom to play?
I have gone to the pains of reading Karl Marx . . .
an exercise which many of his most passionate adherents
appear to have excused themselves. I have a fairly
adequate comprehension of the theories of Social Credit
. . . theories which on paper are incontrovertible and in
practice have proved to be untranslatable. I am natu-
rally aware of the principal variations on the capitalist
theme, starting at one end with the sober economic
counterpoint of Mr. McKenna and ending, at the other,
with the disturbing discords and bewildering cadenzas
of Mr. Roosevelt, I have even been to the pains of
examining quite a large number of other, less advertised,
economic schemes and panaceas. They fall thickly into
the letter box of any writer who, as I do, not only
answers questions but asks them.
And I remain where I was at the beginning- I see no
solution. I echo the words of that charming, if erratic,
politician, Mr. J. H. Thomas, who once said to me:
*IVe talked to every economic expert in the world.
I've asked them question after question, and IVe come
NEWS OF E NGLAND
to the conclusion that none of the damned ' (the word
begins with B) 'knows a thing about it.'
It is the same with me. 'Myself when young did
eagerly frequent, doctor and saint, and heard great
argument, about it and about, but evermore, came out
by that same door as in I went.' Came out into nothing-
ness. Into emptiness and desolation.
.T is FAIRLY INEVITABLE that any reader who has had
the energy to accompany the author so far, on his
melancholy progress through the land, will accuse him
of what are vaguely called * Fascist tendencies*.
Such accusations are very common in modern Eng-
land, and are levelled with singular levity at a remark-
able diversity of persons. Those who hold sane views
on the German Colonial situation, for example, are
instantly labelled ' Fascists'. So are those who doubt the
durability of the French popular front, or those who
refuse to regard the government of Madrid as an angelic
assembly. So are those who, while realizing that there
is a very good case for the nationalization of the major
industries, also realize that there is a very good case
I myself was first accused of Fascist sympathies when
I wrote, apropos of the late Lady Houston, that I
preferred her politics to those of Miss Ellen Wilkinson,
because Lady Houston at least made me laugh, while
NEWS OF E NGLAND
Miss Ellen Wilkinson only made me want to weep.
Since the word 'Fascist' is, perhaps, the favourite
term of abuse among the more advanced circles of
British thought, we shall not waste our time if we ask
ourselves what it means, at any rate as far as Britain
Very few people who are loudest in their abuse of
British Fascism have ever read a single speech by its
leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, Very many of those who are
most urgent in proclaiming its menaces are ignorant of
its philosophy, which differs widely from the continental
However, before we examine the nature of this
'menace' against which we are asked to defend our-
selves, we might well ask ourselves exactly what those
liberties really are and if they are so worthy of defence.
The liberty of the press, as we have seen before, is a
liberty which, to put it mildly, is partial, and in many
cases is wholly dependent on the whims of the adver-
tisers. This will be so evident when we examine the
history of British Fascism that we will not here enlarge
What of the liberty of literature, which we prize so
highly? Is it quite so firmly established as we like to
We are shocked, and rightly shocked, when a mob of
Nazi hooligans make a bonfire of the finest literature in
Berlin, and dance round it screaming nonsense about
'race' and 'purity'. It is true that this episode took
place in the middle of a revolution, but that does not
make it any the less reprehensible.
On the other hand, we do not seem to care tuppence
when we do the same thing ourselves. Well . . . perhaps
not quite the same thing. The authorities do not make
bonfires of the books of which they disapprove. The
flames of their burning might cast an unbecoming light
on the face of British liberty. But they destroy them,
none the less.
Of course I may be prejudiced. Although this example
may sound trivial, I cannot forget that I have just been
informed that a little novel I wrote, eight years ago,
called Crazy Pavements has been publicly chucked out
of one of our biggest municipal libraries as too indecent
for circulation. Up till now, not one person had sug-
gested that there was an indecent line in it. Nearly a
hundred thousand copies had been sold, without a word
of protest. And then, quite suddenly, this happens. Nor
are the authorities content with that. They follow it up
with correspondence in the local press in which the word
' filthy' is gaily flung in my face.
This sort of thing may not be as dramatic as a public
burning, but it seems to me to be quite as irritating.
Most serious English authors could tell the same tale.
Richard Aldington, for example, has stated that: 'Every
single one of my novels has been more or less mutilated
in the interests of prudery by my English publishers.
I don't in the least blame them . . . they are only trying
to guard themselves against the law/
Aldous Huxley has had the humiliation of hearing a
magistrate observe in court that certain passages from
Brave New World were not fit to be read by decent
NEWS OF EN GLAND
Bernard Shaw, Eden Philpotts, Laurence Housman,
Rose Macaulay, Edward Garnett, Lascelles Abercrom-
bie, John Buchan, Arnold Bennett, Lytton Strachey,
Sheila Kaye-Smith and Laurence Binyon were among
those who were prepared to give evidence in favour of
the author in the amazing case of the banning of The
Well of Loneliness. None of them were allowed to be
called. The following extract from the case is interesting:
COUNSEL. I want to call evidence from every con-
ceivable walk of life which bears on whether the tend-
ency of this book was to deprave and corrupt. A more
distinguished body of witnesses was never called in a
court of justice.
The magistrate said he had the gravest doubt whether
the evidence it was proposed to call was admissible.
COUNSEL. If I am not allowed to call the evidence it
means that a magistrate is virtually a censor of litera-
MAGISTRATE. I don't think people are entitled to
express what is merely an opinion upon a matter which
is for the decision of the court.
This is British liberty and British justice. Is it so very
far from the practices of that Fascism which we so
monotonously condemn ?
Are we, in fact, so very far from the bonfire mentality
ourselves? If we had had ten million unemployed, a
bankrupt treasury, and a broken, starving and degraded
people (which was Hi tier 's heritage), and if we were
faced with the alternative of opening the floodgates to
Communism or putting a Fascist dam across the rapidly
rising river of revolution . . . might not we have danced
round a bonfire or two ?
I think it very probable that we might.
Even in the dignified atmosphere of the House of
Lords, in peaceful 1934, one of our most distinguished
bishops enlivened a debate on Lord Dawson's bill to
restrict the sale of contraceptives by this astonishing
observation: 'I would like to make a bonfire of them
and dance round it.' My keen delight in visualizing the
whirling gaiters of the bishop, lit by such dubious and
pungent fires, is so great that I am incapable of treating
his sentiments with the severity which they deserve.
This freedom on which we pride ourselves is largely a
sham. A million men may not be forced, by the govern-
ment, to wear the bright uniform of the state, but they
are forced to wear the drab uniform of poverty. They
may not be compelled to stand in a straight line on the
parade ground, but they are compelled to stand in a
ragged line outside the Labour Exchange. To talk about
'freedom' in a country where the doctrine oflaissezfaire
has come to mean simple criminal negligence is as irritat-
ing as to talk about ' oppression' in a country where
nine-tenths of the people heartily enjoy the 'oppression',
and only ask for more.
By now, the suspicions of the reader concerning my
( Fascist tendencies* will doubtless be confirmed. I can-
not help that. I am not a Fascist. I don't want to wear
any shirt, black, brown, green, or red. But I do want
to tell the truth as I see it. And it is so startling that I
do not think you will be bored.
The first attempt to murder Sir Oswald Mosley,
leader of the British Fascists, was made at Hull, in
NEWS OF E NGLAND
July 1936. On this occasion a man in the crowd, who
escaped, fired a bullet which penetrated the windscreen
of his car.
This attempted murder is interesting for several
Firstly, because political assassination is a rare phe-
nomenon in British politics.
Secondly, because it was entirely ignored by the press,
of every shade of political opinion, except the Fascist.
The only two papers which reported it were the two
Blackshirt papers Action and The Blackshirt. Otherwise,
not a paragraph.
Thirdly, because it was the culmination of a series of
attacks on his person, which had begun as soon as he
left the Labour party, in 1931, to lead the Fascist move-
ment. As long as he was in the Labour camp, he was
immune from attack.
A list of these attacks may cause us to revise our high
opinion of our much-vaunted 'freedom of speech'.
Attacked with knives, razors, broken bottles, and life-
preservers, after addressing a crowd of 15,000 people on
Glasgow Green. Glasgow, September 1931.
His secretary knocked unconscious with a bottle, other
members of his bodyguard seriously injured, his chauf-
feur knocked down and brutally kicked while uncon-
scious. Birmingham, October 1931.
Attacked by a man with a knife, five of his bodyguard
removed to hospital seriously injured. Bristol, March
Lead-piping, stones, broken bottles, among the missiles
used against a bus occupied by Fascists. Four taken to
hospital, one permanently blinded. Edinburgh, June
From 1934 onwards the violence has increased so
rapidly that a recital of it would only be monotonous.
The first attempt at murder, as we have seen, came in
1936 at Hull, but there were many other occasions when
his life was in danger. Very few of these occasions were
ever reported, though now and then a paragraph would
creep in, paying a grudging tribute to his personal
courage, while deploring his principles. For instance,
the hostile News Chronicle reported, on September 28th,
1936: 'Sir Oswald was hit on the cheek, just below the
right eye, with a stone. With blood streaming profusely
from his wound he continued to march at the head of
The fact that he was knocked unconscious from the
roof of a car, the fact that a photographer got a sen-
sational picture as he fell, and the fact that there was
very little other 'hot news' on the day in question, gave
a certain amount of publicity to the latest incident
(October 1937). True, the thrower of the stone had no
murderous intent ... he was merely typical of many
hot-blooded youths in the audience and he was quite
rightly acquitted. Actually, he did Mosley a great
service. For a few members of the public were forced to
realize, with pained surprise, that though every facility
was given, even in Hyde Park, to Communists who
loudly and repeatedly preached bloody revolution, it
was being rendered almost impossible, or at least deadly
dangerous, for the chief opponent of the Communists
to make his voice heard at all
NEWS OF ENGLAND
One does not need to be a Fascist to wish to see fair
play done to even one's opponents. And the treatment
of Sir Oswald Mosley, by the British press, makes one
wonder if 'fair play' is an expression which, in these
islands, is obsolete ... if we had not better borrow a
phrase from the German, which is still living and active
. . . 'ehrliches Spiel '.
Or am I myself being unfair to the English character?
Would it not be truer to say that this persistent sup-
pression of the growth of British Fascism is due to the
fact that the majority of Englishmen are, politically,
sound asleep ?
For one of the peculiarities of the British people is
that, in opposition to Lincoln's famous principle, it im-
possible to fool all of the people all of the time. Or, which
is nearly the same thing, at least 90 per cent of them.
This was evident ... if you will excuse a moment's
digression ... in the abdication of King Edward VIII.
For several years before the people of these islands woke
up to find themselves in the midst of one of the gravest
constitutional crises of their history, the men in Fleet
Street were in full possession of the facts. I myself had a
file of American press-cuttings, sent to me by obliging
friends, in which every detail of the whole affair was set
out, down to the design of the smallest piece of jewellery
with which Mrs. Simpson had been presented. The
whole world was buzzing with the 'romance '. But on the
few occasions when I dared to drop a hint about it, to
anybody who was not either a journalist, or in direct
contact with the Royal Family, I was regarded with
horror. How could anyone dare to repeat such fabri-
cations about our beloved King?
To fool a nation so completely, over a period of years,
in these days of international publicity, argues a willing-
ness on the part of the nation to be fooled. The British
believe what they like to believe, like the old lady in
Punch who got off the bus at Hyde Park Corner. The
conductor said to her, *Hi . . . I thought you wanted
the Marble Arch? This is 'yde Park Corner/ 'It's what
7 call the Marble Arch/ said the old lady, stepping
firmly on to the pavement.
It is therefore to be presumed that the British public
do not wish even to recognize the existence of British
Fascism . . . still less to learn any facts about it. And so,
what I am about to say may give a large number of
people an unpleasant shock. Still, they might as well
have the shock now, as later on. For Mosley, whether
you regard him as a limb of Satan or a potential saviour
of his nation, is one of the three most dynamic person-
alities in the Empire to-day. And the men he has in-
spired are animated by something akin to a religious
faith. Yet he receives less publicity in England than
the colour of Miss Marlene Dietrich's finger-nails.
It is to remedy this incongruous state of affairs that
I am writing this chapter. And for no other reason.
The headquarters of the British Union of Fascists are
in Sanctuary Buildings, Westminster. A few minutes
northwards lies Victoria Street, which ends in a sham-
bles of Victorian architecture. A few minutes westwards
NEWS OF E NGLAND
takes you to the grey towers of Westminster Abbey.
And a few minutes southwards to some of the worst
slums in London. Sanctuary Buildings, therefore, occu-
pies what might be called a psychologically strategic
If you stand for a few minutes by the entrance to the
building you will observe, coming in and out, a constant
procession of young men who suggest, by their bearing,
that they are soldiers. Actually, these young Fascists
are drawn from every profession, and the only man in
uniform whom you will meet in the building is the door-
keeper. Uniform, as you may remember, is forbidden by
In the ante-room is a table covered with copies of the
Fascist magazine Action. Over the mantelpiece hangs a
large photograph of Sir Oswald Mosley, in a black shirt,
It is, in my opinion, a very unfortunate photograph. It
looks haughty and rather pompous, Mosley, however
strongly . . . even passionately ... we may question
some of his principles, is neither. In order to try to con-
vince you of this, we will go and meet him.
We are led to a small office at the back of the building.
As the door opens Mosley rises and greets us. If we are
out for anything sensational in his appearance or his
surroundings, we shall be disappointed. There are no
'heils', no placards summoning us to Mown the Jews!*
All we see is a tall, powerfully-built Englishman of about
forty, good-looking, with aquiline features. He is dressed
conventionally in a dark grey suit.
The most tell-tale thing about a woman is her mouth,
and the most tell-tale thing about a man is his voice.
No amount of cosmetic can turn mean lips into kind
ones, and no amount of histrionic talent can give the
ring of sincerity to the voice of a man who does not
believe what he is saying.
I mention this because it has an important bearing
on some of the more astonishing things that Mosley said
to me. For instance:
*I know for a fact that if I came to power I could
make the peace of Europe in three months. I know that,
as a precise fact., with every detail that this fact implies/
You may dismiss this statement as the raving of a
lunatic. Most people will. But you may not dismiss it as
an example of playing to the gallery, or vote-catching.
For if you had heard Mosley say it, you would have
known that to him it was a simple truth.
And again, you must be reminded of that tone of
voice (though you may think him mad), when you read
the dialogue which ensued from one of the first questions
I put to him.
Because the idea of Fascism ever really gripping Eng-
land seemed to me so remote, I asked him :
'Are you an optimist?'
He replied :
'It is not a question of being an optimist or a pessi-
mist. Either we must win, or it is the end, not only of
this country, but of Western civilization. Of that there
is absolutely no question. We all know it. That is why
we were able to start this movement, which, from every
worldly point of view, was a suicide squad. But it is a
squad which, somehow or other, survived. Because we
have faith/ He gave me a faint smile. * Faith is not a
thing you measure in terms of optimism or pessimism,
is it? It is.
'You see/ he said, f we have advanced as a religious
NEWS OF E NGLAND
He folded his hands and stared into the fire. He
seemed to be speaking to himself. 'People have joined
us, not as they would join a political party, but as they
would join a church. And that is the spirit in which we
have accepted them. We have said to them . . . "by
joining us you will get nothing . . . except victimization.
We have no money to offer you, no easy jobs of any
kind. On the contrary, we must warn you that you may
even lose the job you now hold, if your employer guesses
that you are with us. We can give you no glory, because
we are boycotted by the press. We cannot even offer
safety. Do you still want to come ? " '
He turned back to me. 'When a man says "yes" to
those questions, he is a man whom I can trust. Ten men
like that are stronger than ten thousand who auto-
matically vote, at the elections, for the member who
they think is most likely to pander to their own inter-
ests. Ten men like that will be heard, and listened to,
long after the ten thousand who shout them down have
been forgotten. And I have not ten men . . . but thou-
sands- Look at that map/
He pointed to the map of England which lay behind
him. It was beflagged from Newcastle to Penzance.
Each flag represented an organization of British Fascists
. . . perhaps not large, certainly not rich, but welded by
a religious faith. To that fact I can testify. Anybody
who has ever gone to any of the smaller Fascist meetings
. . . not the sensational meetings of the Leader but the
ordinary gatherings of the rank and file ... will find
himself in the presence of men and women to whom this
creed is a matter of life and death.
And that, whether we like it or not, is something new
in British politics.
It is from no desire to make Fascist propaganda that
I give the following figures. It is rather from a desire to
wake up the British public to a fact of urgent importance,
which the press is consistently concealing from them.
Observe the similarity between the growth of Hitler's
movement and that of Mosley. In 1928 Hitler polled 2.7
per cent. In 1930, when the snowball had got well under
way, he polled 19 per cent (which incidentally gave
him 106 members in the Reichstag).
In East London, in the L.C.C, elections last March,
the Blackshirts who had previously polled only 2 per
cent, polled 19 per cent ... a percentage advance exactly
equal to that of Hitler's, in a period of almost exactly
the same duration.
We all know that L.C.C. elections cannot be judged
by the same standards as national elections, but that
can afford little comfort to the anti-Fascists, for the
L.C.C. elections have shown persistent Socialist gains
at a period when, nationally, the country has voted
Conservative. In this light, the Blackshirt percentage
becomes even more surprising, especially when we con-
sider that it comes from an area which, with its large
Jewish population, is presumably more hostile than
The percentage becomes positively startling when we
take into consideration the fact that the progress of the
British Fascist movement coincided with an industrial
boom, whereas both the Italian and German movements
coincided with (if they were not actually created by)
an economic collapse,
N E WS OF ENGLAND
Mussolini marched to Rome through a land in which
the roar of the industrial machines had been drowned
by the roar of the crowds who were swarming to smash
Hitler marched to the Reichstag through a land of
famine. The full effects of the Treaty of Versailles . . . the
most hideous record that history has ever preserved of
man's inhumanity to man . . . were not really evident
till ten years after the guns had ceased to fire. It needed
ten years of bludgeoning, of starvation, of insult, and
exploitation, to make Germany rise in torment to break
the bonds with which the Lilliputian puppets of France
had shackled her. And Hitler's voice was never seriously
heeded, outside the confines of Munich, till the end of
But British Fascism had none of these allies of mis-
fortune. It started in October 1932. The crash was over.
The chimneys were beginning to smoke again. The
queues round the soup-kitchens were thinning. A watery
sun . . . and as long as gold continues to dominate in-
dustry, the economic sun will always be pretty watery
. . . was beginning to shine again. In spite of this, Fas-
cism (which is a revolutionary creed) advanced and is
As Mosley said to me: 'We are attempting something
which has only once been achieved in history before . . .
the overthrow of an ancient, established regime, while
it is still functioning.'
What are the reasons for this advance ... of which
you will read not one word in the British press ?
One of them lies in the personality of Mosley himself.
If you had sat with me, in that little room, with the light
slowly fading over the grey roofs outside, you would
have realized that you were in the presence of a figure
of tremendous importance. Some will say a figure of
great danger, others of great promise. Most will say
(and they are the people to whom these words are
written) a figure whom we can ignore. The people who
say that are making the biggest mistake of their lives.
One of the reasons for Mosley's importance is that
he has had the courage to admit that there are occasions
when a man should follow his instinct in preference to
Mosley said to me:
'Two or three years ago, I said: "I have had enough
of the people who think . . . I am going out to get the people
'That sentence, 5 he added, 'cost me the friendship of
almost all "intellectual" society. Even old friends like
Harold Nicolson felt that they really couldn't stomach
any statement so deplorable. So they left me. But I
don't regret it. It had cleared the air.'
This desire to 'clear the air', to cleanse national life
as a preliminary to rebuilding the national economy
and remoulding foreign policy, is a fundamental of
Fascist policy ... at least, as it is publicly expressed,
although we may have our own opinions as to the effi-
cacy of the Fascist broom. But there can be no two
opinions as to the sincerity of Mosley's confidence in
his ability to do so, and quite frankly, I wish there were
a single parliamentarian with a quarter of his quiet
Listen to his views on world peace. They differ, some-
NEWS OF EN GLAND
what markedly, from the popular illusion of Fascist
fire and fury.
"After the world war, ' he said, 'we all had grandiose
views of the Super-State that was to spring up on the
ruins of Europe. I needn't go into that, except to point
out that in those days I quoted Tennyson quite as
glibly as any of the Wilsonians, with their parliament
of man and their federation of the world. Then, as we
know, everything broke down. America departed. Ger-
many departed. Japan departed.
' But the League went on, * he said, ( cynically waving
a flag to which it was no longer entitled, in celebration
of a cause in which it no longer believed, to defend a
fortress which it had already deserted/ His voice deep-
ened, and he used a phrase which is significant. 'It was
the restoration of the devil, in the guise of God.
'Of course,' he went on, 'it was the old story of the
Holy Alliance, over again, except that in this case the
alliance was more corrupt and more dangerous. But
that again need not concern us. What I wish to empha-
size is this (and it is the whole essence of Fascist policy).
Everything which is to flourish and to endure must
grow from the roots upwards, and that peace . . . world
peace ... is no exception to this rule.
'You think that sounds vague? It isn't. It's merely
. . , well, big. Tremendous. It means that the first thing
you have to do is to restore decency to national life.
To cleanse the nation. And when we have done our own
job, to erect a superstructure of Union. For union of the
spirit is fundamental, and it can only come from a creed
held in common. And that creed is Fascism/
It would take far too long to endeavour to compress
into a few pages a whole system of morals, economics,
international relations, and social philosophy. If you
are interested, you might read Mosley's own book, The
Greater Britain. Do what you like with it. Riddle it with
criticism. Laugh at it. But do not ignore it. For the
views it sets forward are held, with religious conviction,
by thousands of Englishmen who are prepared to die
But I am not prepared to die for them.
And the reason I am not prepared to die for them is
because I once saw a photograph of a very frightened
little Jewish child, standing outside the door of a school
in Germany, from which it had been locked out by the
* Aryan' authorities.
And because Mosley, through an ironical twist of cir-
cumstances, has been compelled by the powerful forces
of Jewry, to adopt a modified form of anti-Semitism.
It is not quite as simple as that, of course. But it ex-
presses my own point of view.
I am well aware that what I am about to say will lose
me friends left and right. It will lose me friends among
the Jews, and among the anti-Semites; in fact I can
think of nobody who will agree with it. But though
honesty may not be the best policy, it is certainly the
least fatiguing . . . and when one reaches the end of any
book one is always glad to avoid unnecessary fatigue.
So here's for it.
My own objection to anti-Semitism arises from a
hatred of hurting the little people. It is difficult to write
what I mean without sounding sentimental. I am really
NEWS OF EN GLAND
trying to say that the photograph of that small child
(who had a horrible hook nose) moved me much more
than the news that a number of great financiers had
been beaten up or that a number of Jewish multiple
drapers had been forced to close their doors.
The picture which haunts me, keeps me awake at
night, is the picture of children . . . puzzled, frightened
children . . . staring up in alarm at great placards bear-
ing the words 'Juden Nicht Erwunscht'. Starting in
terror when a brickbat, thrown by an Aryan, buzzes
past their heads. Saying to themselves . . . 'What is the
matter with me?' 'What have I done?' 'What does it
I feel that sometimes at night they must bare their
chests and search, by candlelight, for the scars of some
horrible disease. That they must draw their fingers over
their bodies, in bewilderment, run their hands through
their hair, press their little faces to the mirror, asking
always . . . 'Why? Why? What is it that sets me apart?
Where is the mark of the beast?'
No man with a spark of humanity in him can be an
anti-Semite, when his brain paints such pictures for him.
Not only pictures of children, but of all the other little
people of this mournful race. The old women whose
youth was darkened by the shadows of soldiers standing
on guard outside the windows of some house in a Polish
village. The old men who have saved and saved, through
years of honourable practice, only to find, in the end,
that their savings are confiscated by an arbitrary judg-
ment of a hostile court. The young students, who have
scorned delights and lived laborious days, to be greeted
at the end of it all by a row of locked doors and the hope,
that if they are lucky, they may be able to keep body
and soul together by sweeping the crossings.
It is these little people who make the horrors of anti-
Semitism, more than the Einsteins, the Thomas Manns,
the Rheinhardts and the Bergners.
Let us imagine, however, that we can forget all feel-
ings of humanity. Let us regard anti-Semitism from a
purely utilitarian point of view. Is it for a moment con-
ceivable that the British Empire, which is of all insti-
tutions the most precarious and the most ramshackle,
could possibly tear out the Jews from its midst, and
continue to survive ? The briefest consideration assures
us that if it attempted such a drastic surgical operation,
it would crash in ruins. It would crash as certainly as an
ancient building on which the ivy had for centuries
encroached. You may call the ivy a parasite. You may
suggest that it has stretched its tendrils too deeply into
the crevices, that it was eating into the very fabric of
the stone. That may be true. But try to tear it away,
and you will bring down, not only the ivy, but the entire
Would it not be better to trim the ivy?
I do not think that the metaphor is either inappropri-
ate or far-fetched. The ivy is a parasite. The Jew is a
parasite. But the ivy, on an ancient structure, is not
only a parasite but a support. And the Jew, in an ancient
structure like the British Empire, is not only an alien
but an asset.
NEWS OF EN GLAND
I have expressed my own deep antipathy to anti-
Semitism with a certain vigour because bitter experience
has taught me that a modern journalist who does not
constantly scream hysterical abuse of the whole German
people is at once labelled an anti-Semite.
This experience has been mine on more than one oc-
casion. When I printed, in a newspaper, the fact that
I had recently attended, in Hitler's Germany, a per-
formance in one of Germany's largest music-halls, where
a packed house of Nazis loudly applauded a show in
which every single item was Jewish, I was called a liar.
There was no argument about it. The modern intellec-
tual does not debate. He denounces.
He denounced me again when I reported the fact that
as lately as last September I had observed, pouring out
from the synagogue at Nuremberg, an immense congre-
gation of Jews, cheerful and prosperous, who had got
into their motor cars (which were so numerous that they
were holding up the traffic), and whirled off to their
respective homes. 'Such a sight is impossible in modern
Germany/ they cried. 'No Jew can worship in public.
No Jew can hold up the traffic. You are a liar.'
Personally I do not see why a Jew should not hold up
the traffic in modern Germany as often, and as firmly,
as a Gentile. But that is not the point. The point is that
on this question of anti-Semitism it seems impossible for
most people to talk anything which even remotely
resembles common sense.
The most important thing about anti-Semitism is the
simple fact of its existence. It has existed since the very
beginnings of civilization. Periodic outbreaks of it have
occurred in every form of society, under every form of
government, in every climate, and in every variety of
If you read Chapter One of the Second Book of Moses,
called Exodus, you will receive a sharp reminder that
anti-Semitism was in full blast under the Pharaohs.
'And the King of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives,
and he said, "When ye do the office of a midwife to the
Hebrew women, if it be a son, then ye shall kill him. 939
Compared to which, even the thunders of Herr
Streicher, in Der Sturmer seem mild.
You cannot explain away a phenomenon so ancient
and so widespread. The dirty smoke of anti-Semitism
has blown round the world since the dawn of time. You
cannot deny that there must be some fire.
You cannot simply shrug your shoulders and talk
vaguely about barbarism or religious prejudice. A great
many men who are not at all barbarous, and who care
nothing about religion, are anti-Semitic.
Mosley, in talking of this subject to me, said, ' We do
not attack the Jew for what he is but for what he does '.
I observed that this was not an intellectual argument.
He smiled and said that he could have told me that
himself. He added, however, that it became an intellec-
tual argument if a sufficiently overwhelming force of
evidence was produced in its favour. He began to give
me some of this evidence. His first point, I remember,
was a proof that eighty per cent of the fraudulent bank-
ruptcies in the last ten years in this country have been
But since I abhor anti-Semitism I would suggest that
the way to deal with the disruptive element of Jewry,
N E WS OF ENGLAND
and the way, incidentally, to help and protect the large
Jewish element whose members are of real value to the
Empire, is not to knock all Jews indiscriminately on
the head, but to put our own laws in order. If the bank-
ruptcy laws, for example, are so loose that they offer an
irresistible temptation to unprincipled Jews (and un-
principled Gentiles), it should not be beyond the wit of
our legislation to amend them. If they are incapable
of such a simple solution, I should agree with one of my
Jewish friends who observed that, 'people who were so
stupid deserved to be robbed *. It may be a Jewish point
of view, but I have a sneaking sympathy for it.
One could write for ever about this subject, so I will
say only one thing more. Which is that Mosley's ' solu-
tion ' of the Jewish problem, though it seems to me to
be quite impossible, is not an inhuman solution. He
wishes gradually, without persecution, and with full
compensation, to give them a chance of becoming a
nation ... in some other part of the world. Quite frankly,
the * solution* seemed to me to be so incapable of realiza-
tion that I did not ask him where he would send them.
Obviously it would not be Palestine, which has already
reached saturation point . . . (though you can't write
that without being called an anti-Semite!) And again
obviously, however genuine one's desire to avoid perse-
cution, it would be impossible to execute such a scheme
All I wish to point out is that if Mosley were ever to
come to power, there would be no pogroms. He might
even have the genius to find a solution to this problem
. . * which, remember, has baffled the ingenuity of man-
kind since the beginnings of history.
At the moment, however, the fact that he has been
forced by his enemies into a position where he must
either be anti-Semitic or perish, seems to me to be one
of the major tragedies of our time. For he is the only
man I know who has in him the qualities of that hero
for whom this country has waited so long, and waited
The Bitter End
.T is with no ironical intention that I ask you to believe
that this book has been written out of a deep love of
Nor is it with any ironical intention that I also ask
you to believe that it has been written out of a deep love
To many it will seem that the author, if he has any
love of England, has been successful in concealing it.
It will also seem that if he had any love of peace he is
marching with determination in a direction completely
opposite to that of most pacifists.
These accusations must be faced. It is particularly
important for me to face them, as I am the author of a
book called Cry Havoc!, published five years ago. It is
not too much to say that this book had a certain in-
fluence on pacifist thought in Europe. It was translated
into every European language except the languages of
the dictators. It was made compulsory in hundreds of
Imperial schools. Authors of the eminence of the Bengal
Lancer rushed out books in reply to it. And a spark from
THE BITTER END
its pages started the conflagration which blazed, for over
a year, on the front pages of the American newspapers,
as the secrets of the armament manufacturers were
dragged into the light.
I do not regret this. Five years ago, in the utterly
different world in which we were then living, in a world
where there was still a hope for the League, still a hope
for disarmament, still a hope of some form of inter-
national co-operation ... in that remote and almost
unrecognizable era, Cry Havoc! was timely. In that
brief silence before the storm its voice was heard. There
seemed a chance that some people might even heed it.
It was not for me to know that it was so shortly to be
drowned in the thunder of a thousand guns.
All the same, I could not write Cry Havoc! to-day. It
would be like waving a fan in the face of an advancing
cloud of poison gas.
The profound loathing and horror of war which made
me write that book is, if possible, stronger in me than
ever. I still know, as well as you know, that war settles
nothing. For every problem it solves, it creates a hun-
dred new problems. For every pound it puts into one
man's pocket, it takes a hundred out of another's. For
every act of heroism, of nobility, that it may bring forth
* . . (and it would be senseless to deny that some men,
in battle, have reached to spiritual heights which they
would never otherwise have attained) ... it engenders
a hundred acts of squalor and bestiality.
To bring forth a few flowers it makes a dung-heap of
the world. To cause a moment's peace it makes a million
And yet, I now believe that there are some things
worth fighting for.
NEWS OF E NGLAND
To this ' loathsome necessity', as Lord Baldwin de-
scribed it, have I come, in company with a large num-
ber of other pacifists, I do not see why we should be
ashamed of ourselves. We have not been inconsistent.
We do not pretend that war is anything but legalized
murder. But we do at least see that something very
precious may vanish altogether from the world unless
we are prepared to defend it. And that something is the
I said, a moment ago, that I believe there were some
things worth fighting for. What I really meant, of
course, is that there is one thing worth fighting for ...
and that is the British Empire. Nothing could give the
intellectual an easier target on which to exercise his
satire than this suggestion. The target becomes even
easier when we add that, even to a pacifist, the Empire
is worth defending. It becomes a positively pitiable
target when we make the final statement that it is worth
defending, not only for the benefits it bestows upon the
inhabitants of this island, but upon the immense range
of races that are united in its sway.
That sounds like Rudyard Kipling ^t his worst. 'In a
moment/ the intellectual may well observe, 'you will
begin to quote "If"/
There are worse things to quote than 'If, in England
in 1938, But we are not concerned with 'ifs', but with
'whys*, and 'whats'.
Why should it be possible for a pacifist to feel justified
in defending the Empire by force ?
And what do we mean by the English spirit?
THE B ITTE REND
Let us try to answer these two questions very briefly.
My answer to the first question is highly personal and
may strike many people as ridiculous. But perhaps the
main reason why I want to see a strong, resurgent
England, is because I believe that there is less cruelty in
the English character than in any other national psy-
chology. It is not for nothing that there is a proverb, in
many languages, which tells us that: c England is every
dog's spiritual home'. It is easy to laugh at this trait,
to point to fat English squires with their bulldogs and
old English maids with their pugs. But it is, to me, a
very lovable trait. A nation which shows so much solici-
tude for the dumb creatures of the world is a nation to
which power may be entrusted without misgiving.
Give an Englishman a rifle, and he will not run amok.
Give him a whip, and he will be loth to use it. Give him
authority, and he will make no unnecessary parade of it.
The example of India is, surely, sufficient proof of
this, if any were needed. The inhabitants of India
number 352,837,778. The total English population is
293,950. Three hundred thousand to police, administer,
supervise and control three hundred million! To be
precise, one Englishman for a thousand Indians. It is an
unanswerable retort to the trouble makers of the Left
who talk about English oppression in India. If we
needed a quarter of the spies, soldiers, and police to
control the natives of India as the Kremlin needs to
control its own Russian people, we should be obliged to
keep a standing army of several millions.
And that really brings us to the second question,
which is a pendant to the first. What do we mean by the
The answer is best given by a simple little example.
NEWS OF ENGLAND
The English spirit is the spirit that animated a cheerful
young A.D.C., in Cairo, as he walked down a street and
encountered a crowd of rioting students during the
worst troubles of recent years. The spirit that kept him
walking towards them, whistling when he didn't feel
at all like whistling, swinging his hands when he felt
much more like swinging his fists. The spirit that guided
him to go up to the leader, who was standing in front
of his gang, in a menacing stillness, and ask him the way
to the Museum of Antiquities,
For a moment the danger lasted. Sticks were raised.
Knives were drawn. Someone shouted: 'Down with
England ! '
'All right/ retorted the A.D.C 'Have it your own
way. Down with England ! Only I do wish you chaps
would tell me the way to the Museum of Antiquities/
They showed him the way. They parted friends.
That is what I call the English spirit. It is something
unique in the world. It is of vital importance.
And that is why I deplore the symptoms of its decay
which we have been compelled to confess in this book.
There has been so much that is destructive in this
book that we might well use our last few pages for some
The one quality that is vitally important for modern
England is Foresight. The intellectual would call it
Plan. Plan, however, is a suspect word. It has been
adopted by bureaucrats of the Right and of the Left, as
a convenient sop to their patient publics. If you inform
TH E B ITTE REND
your public that you have a Plan, and that it will take
five years to complete, the odds are that you will be
believed. And at the end of five years' chaos, everybody
will be so bewildered that nobody will realize that the
existing purgatory bears absolutely no resemblance to
the paradise that was promised. And another five-year
Plan will be hailed as a further triumph for ' Democracy '
or 'Aryanism' or whatever the prevalent mania may
It is unlikely that the British public will be led by the
nose in this manner. But it is quite vital, as we have
already observed, that we should cultivate Foresight,
and that we should obey the injunctions, however un-
comfortable, which such a gift imposes upon its posses-
Consider, first, this question of war.
A pacifist who has at last been forced to admit that
there are some things which are worth keeping by force
will naturally have a viewpoint which differs consider-
ably from that of the professional soldier. He will be
more interested in the armour than the spear. He will
welcome the invention of a new gas mask as much as
he deplores the invention of a new gas. In spite of the
assurances of the air force that the only way to defend
is to attack, he will first be inclined to concentrate his
energies on the provision of adequate anti-aircraft
It is here that he will realize the astonishing lack of
Foresight which is the particular curse of his country
. . . not only of his government, but of the whole people.
We have already seen that the public, in spite of every
warning, in spite of full knowledge of the gehenna into
which they may be plunged, are inclined to treat the
NEWS OF ENGLAND
problem of air defence with a levity which is inexplica-
ble. I did not realize the full extent of this levity until,
at the very time that I was writing this chapter, I re-
ceived a letter which I make no excuse for quoting. Here
'Dear Mr. Nichols,
' You are doubtless aware that the War Office are en-
deavouring to acquire the land in the vicinity of Blakeney
Pointy Norfolk, for the purpose of an Anti-Aircraft Battery
* Do you know Blakeney Point? There is a lovely bird
sanctuary in the vicinity. What effect will their . . ./ guns
have upon the birds? It is a howling shame that the War
Office should be allowed even to suggest such a thing.' 1
It so happened that I received this letter on a day
when the peace of Europe seemed to be hanging by an
even slenderer thread than usual. It was also a day when
every newspaper carried big headlines about a debate
in the House of Commons which had revealed, with
alarming clarity, our complete unpreparedness in the
matter of war-time food supplies.
The letter therefore seemed to me to show a spirit of
appalling levity in the face of great danger.
I was aware that the War Office had not always
chosen its sites for anti-aircraft batteries with an eye
that was exclusively directed to their aesthetic values
in the landscape. I had even joined in the public pro-
test, a year before, at the proposal which was likely to
threaten an ancient swannery. (As it has turned out, the
swans seem to like it very much, and continue to flourish
THE BITTER END
But I also felt that there are times in a nation's his-
tory when we must admit, with reluctance, that aes-
thetic considerations must take second place. Such a
time seemed to be now. And so I published the letter.
I published it in a Sunday newspaper with a large
circulation. I also published a commentary, in which I
expressed my disgust at the mentality of an Englishman
who put the comfort of a few birds above the lives of his
I pointed out that an anti-aircraft battery was, of its
nature, defensive. That it was no more a 'menace' to
other nations than a supply of gas masks, or a reserve
of canned foods.
I was greeted by a storm of protest.
Bird-lovers from all over the country wrote to me in
terms of such abuse that one would imagine that my
favourite occupation was poisoning parrots. I was called
a hypocrite, a militarist, a turn-coat. I had no sense of
beauty, no sense of decency, no sense of shame. I had
'turned my back on the poor dumb creatures 5 ... a
curious description of the inhabitants of a bird sanctu-
Since these letters formed a typical cross-section of
public opinion, it is to be presumed that the readers of
this book will also swell the tide of abuse.
That cannot be helped. However, I would say (not in
my own defence, but in defence of the War Office), that
since this matter was ventilated I have learned, from the
harassed guardians of our public defence, that my little
storm is only a minor example of the hurricane which
is created when any attempt is made to get the British
public to take any elementary precautions.
Wherever the War Office wish to erect an anti-aircraft
NEWS OF E NGLAND
battery (which may one day be the means of saving
thousands from agonies of death and mutilation) it is
always too near something. If it is not too near a bird
sanctuary, it is too near a f beauty spot', or too near a
public school, or too near a factory, or too near a 'holi-
day resort'. One gathers that the only place where the
War Office could, without arousing hostile comment,
erect a battery, would be in the Outer Hebrides. And
even then, one expects, there would be a number of
people to protest, on the grounds that the amenities of
life among the seagulls would, in the event of war, be
It is strange that these people cannot realize that if
they had their way there might come a day, in the not so
distant future, when the cry of the seagulls and the song
of the thrush would be the only sounds that echoed over
the smoking desolation that had once been England.
This lack of Foresight is to be found in every aspect
of English life.
We have time for one more example . . . unemploy-
If we had Foresight we should be forced to admit to
ourselves (as I endeavoured to point out in a previous
chapter) that unemployment, in this highly industrial-
ized country, has come to stay, and that there is a possi-
bility (to put it mildly) that it may increase. And one
of the first things which a far-sighted man would do,
realizing that the Age of Leisure was upon us, and that
we were completely unprepared for it, would be to try
THE BITTER END
to visualize what was to be the life of a permanent
workless population of several millions. And having
done so, he would come to certain very striking con-
clusions. To take the simplest first, he would come to
the conclusion that these permanently workless millions
(which his Foresight had pointed out to him) would very
rapidly deteriorate, physically, unless they were given
ample opportunity to breathe fresh air and to exercise
their bodies, in other words, to play some sort of game.
There will be a great many games to play in the Age of
But where will they be played ?
Our chain of argument is so simple that it will strike
many people as jejune. That does not invalidate either
its urgency or its truth.
When our man of Foresight asks this childish ques-
tion, ' Where are the workless of the future to play those
games which they most certainly must play, unless they
are to degenerate into mental and physical wrecks ? ' he
will be instantly brought up with a shock. He will learn
that if one per cent of our unemployed all decided to
play games, on the same day, in our great cities, nearly
ninety-nine and three quarters per cent would find it
impossible to do so. In other words, there is accommo-
dation, at the moment, for just over one-fourth of one
If he carried his inquiries farther he would learn that
even this despicable proportion is being slowly lowered.
He would find that young clerks have to wait all through
the summer for a single game of tennis. That factory
lads, anxious to form football teams, have to content
themselves with kicking a ball about in a back yard.
That all the natural vigour and physical energy of
NEWS OF ENGLAND
British youth is being slowly sapped because the land
speculator and the jerry builder, working with an energy
that is perpetually spurred by the snores of the national
and municipal authorities, are rapidly encroaching on
the few remaining green spaces round our great cities.
Our man of Foresight, I hope, would lose no time in
joining the National Playing Fields Association. This
association, which is fighting against almost overwhelm-
ing odds, is one for which no praise can be too high. It
is carrying out a work of paramount importance, and
history will one day record the debt which we owe it.
In the meantime, history is being written. With a
swift and ruthless pen. It is being written in bricks and
mortar, which are closing in on the younger generation
with terrifying rapidity. It is being written in the sharp
lines of discontented faces . , . faces that will one day be
in the vanguard of English progress, or in the first rank
of English retreat.
Which is it to be?
Well, is there anything wrong about that argument ?
Except, you may add, that it is boringly obvious.
Maybe. I can't help being boringly obvious. If the
house is on fire it is, no doubt, boringly obvious to sug-
gest ... in even the politest tones - . . that a few buckets
of water might act as a deterrent. To superior young
men, observing the blaze, and finding pleasure in the
clash of orange flames against a scarlet sunset, such sug-
gestions must be tiresome in the extreme. 'Naturally, a
bucket of water would be a deterrent/ they agree with
And when you ask them who is to fetch the bucket of
water, they say . . . 'Go away, you bore me/
THE BITTE REND
I may bore them. And I may go away, in search of
water. But I shall come back. For I must repeat, ad
nauseam, that it is an example of appalling apathy that
a matter of such vital importance ... (as our man of
Foresight has agreed) . . . should be left to an over-
worked body of patriotic volunteers.
The problems of a great empire cannot be settled in
a single book, even if it were written by a pen a hundred
times more able than mine.
But at least they can be indicated, if one simply tries
very hard, to learn as much as possible, to look forward
as clearly as possible, and to be as honest as possible.
That is really all I have tried to do.
I am not hopeless of our future. But I am profoundly
anxious of it.
We have genius, but it is dissipated in vain excursions.
We have kindness . . . but without strength, of what can
our kindness avail ? We are realists, but we are caught in
a curious miasma. A nation of shopkeepers, we have lost
our capacity to add up a bill, and we have forgotten
that one day we must render an account.
It is with no ironical intention . . - to quote the open-
ing phrases of this chapter . . that I ask you to believe
that this book has been written out of a deep love of
It is rather with the hope that England may once
more be worthy of Canning's immortal eulogy . * . that
she may once more become an England who will save
herself by her exertions, and Europe by her example.